Vashon Island growers are using the challenges of 2020 to improve the island’s food and farm economy

The creative and efficient ways that farm businesses have responded to the COVID-19 crisis have been inspirational and transformative. The Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA) has expanded their efforts to support farm businesses online and promote collaboration between farmers and food access organizations. VIGA supports agriculture on Vashon Island by creating market outlets for farmers and focusing on island farmers feeding island neighbors.

What are innovative methods that Vashon farms and farm businesses have used to reach customers in response to COVID-19?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, VIGA made the difficult decision not to open the Vashon Island Farmers Market in 2020. VIGA immediately worked to support farm businesses and help them adapt to COVID-19 safety protocols and standards.

Vashon Farmers Market before 2020 closure

“We encouraged and promoted collaboration between farm stands and farmers, and our island farmers rose to the occasion,” said Catherine Johnson, VIGA Co-Treasurer. “Larger farm stands hosted smaller ones and actively cross-promoted each other through social media.”

To support these efforts, VIGA published a weekly updated farm stand map for the community to utilize when shopping. VIGA’s informal surveys indicated that 2020 was one of the most successful farm stand years ever.

Map of farm stands on Vashon Island

In addition to encouraging and supporting farm stand collaboration, VIGA expanded their online farmers market operation, Vashon Fresh, enabling them to provide healthy locally grown food for sale and home delivery, two days each week from April through October.

Thanks to VIGA’s dedicated volunteers, Vashon Freshprovided a sales platform that translated into over $82,000 in revenue for Vashon farmers.

Looking ahead, VIGA is determined to reopen the Vashon Island Farmers Market in 2021. 

“We have spent the summer and the fall working on different models to increase the efficacy of the market and ensure its safety for vendors and customers alike,” said Johnson.

How has VIGA supported new partnerships on the island between growers and food access organizations?

The Food Access Partnership is a self-sustaining VIGA program that works to provide access to healthy, locally grown food for members of the greater Vashon community regardless of their financial means.

The Food Access Partnership is an active partnership with over a dozen island non-profit organizations and community groups, who help the program reach those most in need. Through fundraising efforts and grants, this partnership distributes VIGA Farm Bucks to island partners who in return distribute the alternative currency to their clients so they can shop at island farm stands.

This year, the Food Access Partnership provided over $30,000 in VIGA Farm Bucks to the island community.

The Food Access Partnership also joined with the Latinx Outreach effort to reach those in need within that community. The first week of April, the outreach effort began delivering full bags of groceries, donated by island farms and aggregated by volunteers.

“Initially, seven bags a week went out,” said Johnson. “Just before Thanksgiving, that number had increased to 20.”

Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust’s Matsuda Farm donated the bulk of the fresh vegetables for this outreach effort, with smaller farms and gardens supplying additional produce, herbs, flowers and fruit. VIGA recognizes and is grateful for Matsuda’s enormous contribution to this effort.

Matsuda Farm during the warmer months

In addition, Vashon Maury Community Food Bank partnered with the Food Access Partnership on another effort to get more local food into the Food Bank’s distribution. Through a grant from Harvest Against Hunger, the Food Access Partnership and Vashon Maury Island Food Bank have shared an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the last three years. 

This year, VISTA volunteer Abby Findley successfully applied for and received funds from King County to purchase locally grown produce and created a way for farmers to work together to fulfill the Food Bank’s needs, resulting in almost 4,000 pounds of fresh food distributed and $12,000 in income for local farms.  VIGA wants to thank King County for their contribution to this effort.

To learn more about the Food Access Partnership, visit their website here. To visit a Vashon Island farm stand, click here.

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