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.
In late 2010, The San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, having initially set out to find a permanent, year-round site for the San Juan Islands Farmers market, purchased what has become the Brickworks property with the aid of a $365,000 state grant, a $100,000 federal USDA grant, and $228,000 in individual community donations.
Following this initial purchase of the property, the Guild embarked on a major commitment of volunteer time and effort over the ensuing years to raise the capital required to transform the building and the overall property into a multifaceted community events venue. This involved meeting, talking with and otherwise encouraging community members and visitors to help meet the financial challenge. Along with contributions from approximately 400 individuals ranging from $5 to $9,700 (with mean of $250), several local community members came forward to gift even larger sums, including one of $100,000. In parallel, several extraordinarily generous dollar-for-dollar challenges ($100,000 from a local family, $100,000 from the Town of Friday Harbor and $20,000 from a private foundation) were successfully met with matching contributions from equally generous members of the community.
Last but certainly not least, this direct financial support has been dramatically supplemented by the equally generous contribution of more than 30,000 hours of volunteer time and effort to the Brickworks project and the Ag Guild in general.
As of March 2014, with an overall total of approximately $1.6 million having been raised, the Guild is now embarked on a push to raise the final sum of approximately $70,000 which will allow it to not only complete the outfitting of Brickworks with furniture, catering and audiovisual equipment but also completely pay off the outstanding mortgage debt.
The project is already making several significant contributions to island community life. The Saturday San Juan Islands Farmers Market on Brickworks Plaza has now expanded into the Building as well, the Friday Harbor Art Market on the Plaza on Fridays has been drawing additional vendors and visitors, and a new weekend event, “Sundays @ Brickworks” was launched on summer Sunday afternoons as an eclectic gathering of food, crafts, music, performance artists, etc. In addition to these regular events, well over a hundred one-time music events, special dinners and many group meetings have already been held in the Building in its first nine months operation, and several more have booked the facility as a venue for additional special events over the coming months.
The Guild is eternally grateful to all the donors and volunteers who have helped thus far in making the dream a reality. We are now in the home stretch, and, with the continuing extraordinary generosity of so many people, shortly expect to finally celebrate our community having a facility that is fully paid for and even more actively contributing to the local economy as well as the overall quality of island life.
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.