In 2007, the Agricultural Resources Committee (ARC), an advisory committee to the San Juan County Council, proposed that additional support be given to help local farmers establish permanent farmers market facilities and otherwise promote successful marketing of local agricultural goods in the islands. In early December that year, a group of people representing a broad range of county agencies, farmers and local food advocates met to determine and plan how best to proceed. The result was the formation of an independent entity – the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild – committed to coordinating its marketing, education and economic development programs with those of other county and regional entities having similar and complementary goals. The new entity was ratified at a public meeting in Friday Harbor on February 4, 2008.
As its initial major project, the Guild sought to locate and establish a year-round facility for the San Juan Islands Farmers Market. In just a few short years, with significant community support – along with significant public and private funding – the Guild secured an historic, centrally-located property in the downtown retail core of Friday Harbor. This property, dubbed “Brickworks” in recognition of its original function, has now been completely transformed and re-purposed with the installation of an attractive outdoor paved Plaza and a completely remodeled Building.
In quick order, Brickworks has become firmly established not only as the home of the San Juan Islands Farmers Market, but also as the home of the Friday Harbor Art Market. It has also rapidly become a favored venue for a variety of other community educational and cultural events, as well as a meeting room for various community organizations. The latest addition – a commercially certified Community Kitchen – promises to extend the suitability of the Building for an even wider range of community activities.
Having essentially completed the Brickworks Project, the Guild has begun laying out the framework of a comprehensive education program targeted across the spectrum of agriculture – from producers to processors to consumers.
In 2016, the Ag Guild and partners (SJC Agricultural Resources Committee, Orcas Food Co-op, Northwest Agriculture Business Center, and Washington State University in San Juan County) worked closely to develop a local “food hub” for San Juan County. A food hub is an aggregation site (or series of sites) with cool and cold storage and an on-line ordering system for farmers, restaurants, and grocery outlets wishing to buy and sell local food. The Ag Guild was awarded a USDA Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) grant of $25,000 to undertake a Feasibility Study and create a Business Plan for the San Juan County Food Hub. In 2017, the Ag Guild and food hub project partners will be applying for a USDA LFPP implementation grant and, in the meantime, undertaking a private fundraising campaign to get the San Juan County Food Hub up and running on San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez islands. Establishing cold storage aggregation points on these islands, combined with a virtual sales platform and inter-island distribution system, is a top priority for the Ag Guild in 2017.
In March 2014, the Guild agreed to take over the “Island Grown in the San Juans” branding program from ARC and incorporate it into the Guild’s evolving overall marketing program to support its mission.
As always, the Guild welcomes input and suggestions from all quarters as it seeks to enhance the overall quality of life of island residents and visitors alike.