By Kathryn Wheeler
The San Juan Islands Food Hub, launched in 2020 by a group of passionate local agrarians, is a place of connection. The Food Hub is an online platform that serves as an inter-island farmers’ market for locally produced food and farm products, with a convenient weekly pick-up on Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Islands. Seeking to bolster the islands’ local food economy, the platform connects farmers and consumers to enjoy the bounty the islands offer.
When COVID-19 shuttered live markets, restaurants, and resorts, the Food Hub was created as a way to help farmers sell their food with safe, contactless pick-up options for shoppers. Now in its third year, the Food Hub continues to serve households throughout the county and is expanding wholesale operations thanks to the help of a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant. Through wholesale, the initiative hopes to make local ingredients more consistently available for chefs and grocers. The website displays weekly offerings by farmers on Orcas, Lopez, and San Juan Islands. Fresh greens and spring delicacies like rhubarb and asparagus are the seasonal stars right now, while abundant pasture-raised meats and eggs are available year-round. A weekly Friday-Sunday ordering period allows buyers to fill their virtual shopping carts and pick up those purchases mid-week.
The idea is simple, but the impact has been immense for both farmers and consumers. With a harvest-to-market system that allows growers to harvest only what’s already sold, without excess going to waste, the Food Hub is a flexible sales channel that farmers can customize to their seasonal needs. For buyers, there’s always something new to try as well as access to coveted products like Sunnyfield Farm’s creamy goat cheeses and New Hannah Farm’s coveted salad turnips. It’s a unique opportunity to try fresh, nutrient-dense, ethically raised food while directly supporting local growers throughout the islands.
For Stonecrest Farm on Lopez Island, which produces pasture-raised beef and lamb, the Food Hub allows owner Meike Meissner to “share our story and share our products throughout the county,” a sentiment echoed by many farmers. To Guard Sundstrom, veteran farmer at Fir Oak Farm, whose property in the San Juan Valley has agricultural roots dating back to the late 1800s, island farming carries a simple mission: “We need good food to eat,” he says. He loves seeing new names amongst his buyers, many of whom he wouldn’t have the opportunity to connect with otherwise.
The Food Hub’s mission and impact extend far beyond just providing fresh, local food. It is one of the keys to building resilience into our food system, according to Roger Ellison, a Food Hub founder and owner of Thornbush Farm, a nursery and biochar producer on San Juan Island. “We need to increase our local supply of good food, stop bringing in truckloads of imported food—we’re at the end of a supply line that’s increasingly tenuous and fragile,” he says.
A recent survey found that only 3% of the food consumed in San Juan County is grown locally. The fragility of importing the other 97% was apparent when national supply chains were disrupted during the pandemic. The Food Hub offers a means to invest in local production that could offer a critical source of food when the islands experience shortages, as is expected in the future. Better local and regional distribution also offers a way to cut down on pollution caused by far-ranging transportation in the commercial food system.
The Food Hub is optimistic about the opportunities to tell local food stories and to center great food in the experience of islanders and visitors alike. Supplying local ingredients to restaurants such as San Juan Island’s The Market Chef and Orcas’s Matia and New Leaf Cafe while helping to establish new restaurants like Oystertale and Everelse in Friday Harbor is a key part of offering the best tastes of the islands to a wider audience. The Food Hub is working hard to encourage more local purchasing to make island farming a more viable way of life.
As more islanders choose to eat locally, the Food Hub hopes to grow, helping the islands to retain their legacy of farming and to grow a strong, connected community. This week, the Food Hub offers a cornucopia of delicious foods, including a wide variety of greens, rhubarb, sugar snap peas, green onions, turnips, duck and chicken eggs, beef, pork, and lamb, plus local jams, flowers, and soaps.