BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
June 1, 2016
Kristi O’Donnell is no stranger to ideas. They are her bones and blood, and every time her broad grin stretches across her warm face you can almost see them poised on her tongue behind her teeth, ready to spring out into the world and change it.
“She makes things happen!” said Jo Oxreider, co-owner of Raven Rocks Gallery at the Greenbank Farm. “We are so fortunate to have her.”
O’Donnell swings a wide rope, as the cowboys say. (Okay, no cowboys say that.) But the multi-talented woman has carved out a wide place in the cultural life of the island. She’s a horticulturalist, a visual artist, a musician, a visionary and a fierce community activist. She does indeed make things happen.
And now she’s taken on the mantle of Events Coordinator for the Coupeville Port Authority in March. The Port Authority, under the leadership of new Executive Director Forrest Rambo, is now directly managing the farm after a controversial decision by the board of commissioners last summer to do away with the Greenbank Farm Management Group.
The surprise decision elicited outrage among long-time supporters of the Farm and consternation and confusion in the local community about what lay in store. Since then, two newly elected Port Authority commissioners have assumed their duties and Oxreider said she has been very pleased with the outcome so far.
“The commissioners have been great,” she said. “They have moved their offices here [to the Jim Davis house] and they come into the shop regularly. They listen to us. And Kristi is here.”
O’Donnell has been working hard to create a schedule for the Farm this summer. Her gift for generating ideas and seeing them through is apparently as vibrant as ever. Her past involvement as a leader in helping the community save the farm from developers 20 years ago is also serving her well in her new position. People she worked with back then and through the years are offering her their support.
“Greenbank Farm is still here and still available for the community,” O’Donnell said. “People are coming forward and saying ‘how can I help, what can I do?’”
A couple of dedicated farm supporters, Jelcy and Conrad Romberg, gave $1,000 to start a music fund. “Our intention is to inspire other creative and civic-minded people to contribute matching dollars to this starter fund so we can continue to have music throughout the year,” O’Donnell said. “This gift supplies seed money for the summer series.”
The first music event is this Friday, June 3 at the historic main barn from 5 to 7 p.m. Rusty Fender and the Melody Wranglers will kick off this initiation of the First Friday Music Series with their Alt Country/Americana blend of two-steppin’ music. (Full disclosure: this article’s author is the lead singer of the group!)
The event will be part of the long-running First Friday at the Greenbank Farm, a promotion which includes an artwalk, wine tasting, and food and beverage offerings. Subsequent performances in the music series, as well as all the other Farm events, will be posted online. (Please see links at the end of this article.)
Wine lovers will want to check out new owner Hollie Swanson’s Greenback Wine Shop event that night as well. The vintner for Rain Shadow Cellars of Coupeville will be pouring his wine which will not only help educate participants in the finer points of wine appreciation, but may also help get their feet moving on the dance floor in the barn right next door. And Whidbey Pies—on the other side of the wine shop and long an island favorite—will be offering plenty of coffee, tea and delectables of all sorts including, of course, pie. They will also be selling beer for consumption on the premises.
Meanwhile, the artwalk gives visitors the chance to visit the three principal galleries at the Farm: the Rob Schouten Gallery, the Artworks Gallery and Raven Rocks Gallery. This Friday will see receptions at Schouten’s and the Artworks’ Galleries for new shows. Jandellyn Ward’s exhibit of her functional art pieces for home and garden will open at Artworks, where Quinn Fitzpatrick will provide yet more live music, while Rob Schouten will debut “Modern Relics: New Encaustic Paintings by Kathleen Otley.” The Greenbank Cheese Specialty Foods and Gift Shop will also be open, offering their impressive trove of gourmet foods and gifts that range from whimsical to practical.
In addition to First Fridays, O’Donnell is also introducing Last Sundays (not the official name of the event.). A bluegrass jam on the last Sunday of the months of June, July and August will not only provide an opportunity for devotees to get together and set their strings on fire, but a way for music lovers to contribute to the Farm’s music fund as well. The first session is set for June 26 from 1 to 3 p.m. All are welcome to play or to simply enjoy the music, O’Donnell said.
In turn, music can also be a way to raise money for other needs at the Farm. O’Donnell said that the Alder Quartet approached her with the idea to give a concert to help pay for new chairs for the barn. Group members Sue Baer, Maggie Storer, Linda Morris and Buell Neidlinger (Billy the celloist) often perform locally to help raise money for local causes. They all have long musical resumes and will offer their “Buy A Chair Benefit Concert” on Sunday, June 12, from 2 to 4 p.m., also in the main barn.
Some events that have been staple local events in recent years will not be on this year’s calendar. O’Donnell said. Both the Renaissance Festival and the Highland Games, are taking sabbaticals this year. The Loganberry Festival will undergo a process of re-imagination and be moved to a new date in September. “If you love the Loganberry Festival,” O’Donnell said, “I could use your help and your input to get this important event back up and running.”
Sunday, July 24 from noon until 4 p.m. will see the second annual Bounce Mania Children’s Carnival with old-fashioned games and activities for kids, including—ta-da! a loganberry pie-eating contest.
Of course, O’Donnell has many more projects in the pipeline: a car show, wooden boat show, vintage trailer show with a bluegrass festival, an old-fashioned ice cream and pie social and more. She doesn’t yet know which of these, if any, will come to fruition. But all of them could potentially bring in revenue along with what the farm already generates from rental fees, weddings and other types of private gatherings and celebrations. The survival of the Farm depends in large measure on its ability to pay for itself.
But with Kristi O’Donnell and her mind full of ideas, and her track record of making them happen (including for example, Greenback Farm as it exists now), there’s reason to be optimistic.
“We fought the good fight,” said Oxreider, “We were heard. We have a future!”
Looks like it’s going to be a good summer on the Farm.
For more information on Greenback Farm, the Port of Coupeville and scheduled events please visit the following websites:
Also, Kristi O’Donnell wants the public to know that if they can’t attend the bluegrass jams, they can still support the music series by sending a check made out to: The Port of Coupeville, Greenbank Farm Music Series, PO Box 577, Coupeville, WA 98239.
Photo at top: Greenbank Farm (photo by Marsha Morgan)
Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He also is a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.
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