The Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA) began in the 1980s with a few people who wanted to create on-island jobs in farming. They started a small Farmers Market near the current Post Office, and by 1990 had moved to the current site (although it was private property then) and built a small structure to house the Market.
A small group of local growers continued selling into the 1990s, and craft vendors joined the effort and even managed the Market for a while. Controversies over what could be sold caused the owner of the land to close down the Market, but the farmers regrouped and a more narrowly defined Farmers Market featuring locally grown produce returned.
To help stabilize their efforts, the founding farmers decided to apply to become a member of Washington Tilth, a statewide organization promoting local, organic agriculture. A Mission Statement and bylaws were adopted and VIGA became an official Tilth chapter and a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. As an organization devoted to ‘supporting local agriculture through education and the Farmers Market,’ VIGA developed a strong educational program, the Get Growing series, which focused on assisting people to grow more food for their families as well as for the Market.
In 1998 VIGA received a grant to build the current shed structure, and the following year spearheaded a community-wide effort to purchase the land under the shed. Over $200,000 was raised to buy what is now known as the Village Green, and the permanent home of the Vashon Island Farmers Market.
VIGA’s educational focus continued as volunteers from the group helped the Vashon High School develop a horticulture program focused on raising fruits and vegetables organically. VIGA volunteers helped create the high school garden, tilling, fencing and refurbishing a greenhouse for the students. VIGA members have been the faculty of the program since its inception.
The educational program continued to expand with VIGA members taking an active role in the WTO protests in Seattle in 2000. Local growers marched, attended workshops, made breakfast for over 300 farmers and supporters, and hosted farmers from all over the world at a dinner on Vashon featuring locally grown food. Out of that effort came an increased focus on the politics of food here on Vashon and around the world. The most recent educational programs have focused on low-cost food production and preservation.
As the Farmers Market grew, VIGA looked for assistance and in 2004 hired its first staff member – a professional Market Manager. The Market thrived under her leadership and continues to grow and prosper under the ongoing leadership of different Market Managers. VIGA volunteers continued to develop educational programs as well as do the work of a growing organization.
Today VIGA is a thriving organization playing a major role in supporting agriculture on Vashon Island. Retail sales of locally grown produce topped $300,000 in 2010. There’s a growing interest in island-raised meat and dairy products as well. New business enterprises are springing up to support these developments including a producers co-op for wholesale sales and a mobile slaughter house. Island restaurants feature island produce and an island-produced soft cheese is one of the most highly regarded and popular around Puget Sound.
Most significantly, more people are growing food on Vashon; there are now at least 12 farms represented at the Farmers Market and most host interns who plan to become farmers themselves. Our Food Bank has not only a garden, but a flourishing farm supplying fresh produce to Food Bank customers as well as to other food banks in the South Seattle area. Home gardeners are adding edibles to their landscapes. We are all discovering the importance of locally and sustainably grown food here on our island.