Community and business leaders toured Thurston County on Thursday as part of a two-day event to show them destinations for local food, stores and farms.
The event was called Savor Washington, a program launched 18 months ago by Washington State Tourism and the state Department of Agriculture to connect farmers, chefs, restaurants, hoteliers and others to the tourism industry, said Michelle Campbell, a product-development manager for Washington State Tourism.
Savor Washington tours and workshops have been held throughout the state; it most recently visited Pierce County this week and ended in Thurston County on Thursday and today. The Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau hosted the all-day tour Thursday, and a related workshop will be held today at the Thurston County Fairgrounds with ag-tourism expert Judy Walden.
“This is the start of what we call product development, increasing the experience of what tourists can do,” said George Sharp, the VCB’s executive director.
About 15 people participated in the tour, beginning their day at the downtown restaurant Bread Peddler, followed by morning stops at the Batdorf & Bronson coffee tasting room, the Olympia Farmers Market, the Olympia Food Co-op’s west-side store, Garden-Raised Bounty, also known as GRuB, and The Evergreen State College’s organic farm. In the afternoon, the group headed to Taylor Shellfish in Shelton, Lattin’s Country Cider Mill, Left Foot Organics and McCrea Cellars Winery in Rainier, which recently opened a tasting room in downtown’s New Caldonia Building on Fifth Avenue in Olympia.
One goal of Savor Washington was to stimulate economic development, and its activities have resulted in some success stories, Campbell said. During a tour in Pacific County last year, a Long Beach restaurant owner learned of a local farmer growing heirloom tomatoes. Suddenly, that restaurant had a new place to buy locally grown produce, she said.
Some participating in Thursday’s tour had that kind of business connection in mind.
Michael Davidson, a sales manager with downtown’s Phoenix Inn Suites, took part in the tour, hoping to learn more so he could put together travel packages for hotel guests wanting to experience ag-tourism, he said.
Restaurant owner Christian Skillings, who has operated west Olympia’s Iron Rabbit Restaurant & Bar for nearly six years, said he already was familiar with many of the stops on Thursday’s tour but still viewed it as a worthwhile networking opportunity. Skillings said he incorporates locally grown food into his menu and has his eyes on using more meat raised in the Northwest.
Thurston County Resource Stewardship associate planner Scott Longanecker said he took part in the tour so he could help shape an ag-tourism ordinance for the county. The idea in creating the ordinance is to encourage economic development in South Thurston County while still maintaining the rural character of the county, Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero said. Once enacted, it might result in restaurants or wineries, or allow a farm to sell retail items from the same location, she said.
“I want to showcase the fabulous county that we have,” Romero said.
A draft of the ordinance is expected to be delivered to the county’s planning commission in the next couple of months, Longanecker said.
One side note: This is the last Savor Washington tour and workshop because of cuts to state funding, but data compiled over the past 18 months can be accessed at the state Department of Agriculture. For more information, contact Patrice Barrentine at 360-902-2057 or firstname.lastname@example.org.