Building on years of work by agricultural stakeholders in San Juan County, the Food System Team was formed in Spring of 2020 to assess and address needs related to how food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed, and disposed. The Team includes representatives from the San Juan County Agricultural Resources Committee, San Juan Islands Agricultural  Guild, Orcas Food Co-op, San Juan County Community Health Department, and San Juan County WSU Extension. 

This Community Food Assessment offers an overview of the current state of the local food system in San Juan County. Modeled after similar efforts in neighboring Whatcom County, this analysis emerges from in-depth data collection, outreach and interviews, as well as input and editing by a broad swath of co-managers and food system stakeholders.

We begin with an extended Land Acknowledgement, a grounding in the history that brings us to the present moment. These acknowledgements are the first step, but cannot be the only step, as we move toward truth and reconciliation, toward dismantling systems of white supremacy as they intersect with the ways in which we feed ourselves. With humility, our team hopes that this report can offer another stepping stone to deepen understanding, as we as a community of Coast Salish peoples and settlers uncover what it means to inhabit this land together.

The Sector Snapshots that follow reflect the arc of the local food system: Land, Water, Farming, Fishing & Aquaculture, Economy & Labor, Processing & Distribution, Consumption and Waste. Within each Snapshot, we provide a sector overview, a summary of challenges, descriptions of current collaborations and key developments, as well as existing gaps in knowledge.

It is important and illustrative to note that this list of gaps in knowledge is in itself incomplete. There are limits to the awareness of our team, there are significant gaps in equity in this process itself, and to remove these blinders and name what else has yet to be understood about the complexities of our local food system we need continued community engagement. As we engage in this iterative process of observation and interaction, of assessment and planning over the coming years and decades, our hope is that we can drill down on the details of these areas of opacity, and address multiple perspectives and truths to enhance equity within our food system. 

One of the most challenging aspects of this assessment has been to remain in an observation mindset. When faced with continued, obvious and mounting evidence that our current food system is a non-equitable one, it takes an act of will not to leap to problem solving. To solve the problem, we must first be able to describe the problem; to co-create a county-wide, coordinated food system plan, we must first come to understand the current conditions and the historical context around how our food system has evolved. 

The pandemic has brought the existing fissures and frailties of our food system into stark relief. While the issues are not new, by investing in ongoing discussion, research and dialogue to continue the work, we can and will arrive at the best-fit solutions. Thank you for joining us on this learning journey!

Food System Team Members:

Steph Coffey: San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild Director, ARC Board Member, San Juan Islands Food Hub Board Member, San Juan Islands Family Resource Center Financial Manager

Caitlin Leck: Food System Team Coordinator, ARC Outreach Chair, Ag Summit Team, Conservation Agriculture Resource Team (CART) facilitator, Orcas Community Participatory Agriculture (OCPA) Anchor Farmer, Orcas Food Co-op board member

Learner Limbach: Orcas Food Co-op General Manager, ARC Member (Chair 2014-2019), Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) Work Group Member

Kate Mikulak: WSU San Juan County Extension Agriculture Program Coordinator, San Juan Islands Agricultural Summit Steering Committee, Conservation Agriculture Resource Team (CART)

Kristen Rezabek, MS, RD, CD, CDE: Health and Nutrition Program Coordinator, SJC Community Health Department

Faith Van De Putte: Midnight’s Farm owner+operator, ARC Coordinator and Food System Team county liaison, Ag Summit team, numerous county-wide projects