BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Dec. 2, 2013
“It’s a unique little critter.”
Judy Feldman was talking about the upcoming Holiday Market at the Greenbank Farm; not Chaco, the little terrier she met a couple of days later as she walked near the small patch of Loganberry vines. The old plants are all that remain of John Molz’ Loganberry farm, once the largest in the country.
Maybe she was talking about the fact that the Holiday Market runs every weekend now until Christmas, or the fact that it is held in the barn that Calvin Phillips built for his dairy cows back in 1904, or the eclectic mix of vendors the market attracts. Feldman, a transplanted Texan who serves as executive director for the Greenbank Farm Management Group, didn’t really need to explain.
Almost anything that happens at the Greenbank Farm is unique. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Beast. That’s “big critter” in Fort Worth speak.
Located midway between the southern and northern extremities of the island and at its narrowest point, the windy slope of land is more than a geological center point. It is also one of the island’s most important centers of island history, art, music and community.
Feldman said, “It is one of two of the oldest and most iconic pieces of property on Whidbey. The other one is the wharf in Coupeville. The kind of places where locals always bring their visitors.”
Extensive trails wend their way through the grassy sweep above the farm buildings and on into the woods. From the highest vantage point, hikers can view Holmes Harbor and Saratoga Passage with the Cascades beyond to the east. Turning west, they can see the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains. The expansive, dramatic vista creates a strong sense of place, an idea iterated in the conversations of more than a few who have been drawn into a relationship with this strip of island.
“This land was sacred to the indigenous peoples,” said Kristi O’Donnell, one of the leaders of the community activist movement that saved the farm from residential lot development back in 1997.
“All the Salish Sea tribes would come here for a big potlatch and to trade with each other.”
O’Donnell said that there are burial sites not far away along North Bluff. The deceased indigenous ancestors were placed seated in their tombs facing east so they can see the sunrise every day. It’s just one among many reasons that she and many others in Greenbank and elsewhere on Whidbey knew that the farm had to be saved from private developers.
Feldman pointed out that Greenbank Farm currently brings revenue to the island in a number of ways. As one of the island’s principal tourist attractions, it helps draw people who come to
Whidbey and stay in a bed-and-breakfast, eat at local restaurants and shop at local galleries, boutiques and stores.
The Holiday Market is another example of how the farm attempts to bolster the local economy by encouraging residents to support local artists and artisans.
“It’s fun to go to; it’s something to do with friends,” Feldman said of the event that occurs during the four weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“These markets make a huge difference for our artisans. Start [your holiday shopping] with our local people; see how much you can take care of locally.”
Meanwhile, O’Donnell sat at Whidbey Pies Café at Greenbank Farm last Saturday as the sunlight streamed through a window onto her expressive eyes and warm smile. Patrons had been arriving and leaving throughout the early afternoon, keeping the waitresses busy and enjoying the food and atmosphere in the cozy dining room.
“It was in September, 1997. The Loganberry Festival was late that year,” O’Donnell said.
It had been delayed due to the controversy surrounding the community’s attempt to save the farm. On that welcome day in September, the community was able to celebrate.
“It was like a wellspring of joy,” said O’Donnell, “when Judge Hancock came over the ridge playing his bagpipes. It gave me goosebumps.”
She said that the conservation easement had been finalized this year, the long-awaited legal status that means the farm is now permanently protected from development.
“We wanted [the farm] to be celebrated as a landmark,” she said.
“It provides a sense of place; we can’t cover it up. As human beings, we need our connection with nature. Modern society needs grounding. We need to be able to step back in time for a moment.”
After O’Donnell talked about the burial sites along North Bluff she said,
“It’s the artists’ and songwriters’ job to tell the story over and over. The story of this place, about the recognition of this place on Earth, and our ability to celebrate it for future generations.”
Outside, geese and ducks splashed in the large pond as the sun beamed down on Greenbank Farm, the flower gardens across the pond, the cafe, the art galleries, the vegetable fields, the sweep of grassy prairie leading up to the forest above, the Puget Sound below and the snow covered mountains, abiding silently in the distance.
The Holiday Market takes place in the historic red barn from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, Dec.22.
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. Look for Russell Clepper’s “Greenbank Farm — Preserving a sense of place: Part Two,” coming up in Whidbey Life Magazine.
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