by Annika Sampson
I recently moved to Bellingham and I already love the sense of belonging I feel here. People seem really invested in the community. There are so many small businesses and restaurants. Also … people compost!? There are solar panels on people’s houses? So cool. Anyway, my question for you, Sasquatch, is this: are there any groups or organizations in Whatcom County that are working on behalf of this sort of community involvement? Maybe a nonprofit? I’d love to get involved, or donate, or just learn about the work they’re doing. Let me know! Hope you’re doing well, wherever your lair may be.
Dear Nosy Newcomer,
Thank you for your lovely letter! First of all, it’s not nosy. Curiosity has always been a prized virtue among Bigfeet, so I’m excited to read your letter. I’m writing to you from my secret nook in the Mount Baker Wilderness, but I spend a lot of time in Whatcom County and Bellingham and feel like I can give you a good answer to your question.
The first organization that comes to mind is Sustainable Connections (https://sustainableconnections.org/). They’ve been a nonprofit here for 20 years, which means they’ve had a long time to learn from and connect with this community. You can read all about their mission on their website, but I’ll paraphrase here: they want to make this corner of the Pacific Northwest the best place to live, work, and play.
Think Local First
They do this through six programs, all addressing different aspects of community growth. All those small businesses you mentioned? The Think Local First program (https://sustainableconnections.org/programs/think-local/) makes it easy to find what you need locally — whether that be tools for your latest project, a gift for a friend, or a local physical therapist. That way, you build and support an economy of friends and neighbors. Think Local First’s goal is to help folks like you keep your dollars where your heart lives — and it sounds like that place is Whatcom County! Welcome! You’re in good and caring company.
Food and Farming
Your letter also waxed poetic about local restaurants. Let me tell you — we may be the “City of Subdued Excitement,” but the stoke around local food is high! Whatcom County is home to an agricultural abundance of the most delicious order — and a plethora of local chefs who turn that local food into drool-worthy dishes. Sustainable Connections’ Food and Farming program (https://sustainableconnections.org/programs/food-farming/) helps to create a vibrant local food economy, supporting local farmers, connecting food buyers to local farms and artisans, and encouraging this community to eat local first (https://eatlocalfirst.org/).
Cloud Mountain Farm Center
And, where would local food be without local farms, and chances for agricultural enthusiasts to learn more about growing and selling food? That’s where Cloud Mountain Farm Center comes in, a nonprofit farm that merged with Sustainable Connections in 2019. Founded in 2011 and based in Everson, Washington, Cloud Mountain Farm Center is dedicated to building knowledge, experience, and community to expand dynamic local food systems. Their farm center serves the food system as a whole — new farmer training, shared warehouse and processing space for local growers and food hubs, field trials in organic fruit production, and a retail nursery specializing in fruit trees, food plants, and community education (https://www.cloudmountainfarmcenter.org/education/workshops/). Located on 42 acres, their production farm, orchard, and nursery provide an unparalleled learning environment and opportunity for applied research. The produce and fruit grown on their farm are sold to local restaurants, at the Bellingham Farmers Market, and through the Puget Sound Food Hub.
Toward Zero Waste
Your letter mentioned your excitement at seeing so many opportunities for composing — and I feel the same way! It’s pretty rad to see the ways this community is moving towards zero waste. Sustainable Connections’ Toward Zero Waste program (https://sustainableconnections.org/programs/toward-zero-waste/) is a key part of reducing, as well as redistributing, waste. They empower businesses and individuals to expand upon their network of community resources and educate them in operations that maximize source reduction. They do that through providing personalized waste assessments, consultation services, and education for all. As if that’s not enough, they also manage the Food Recovery Program (https://sustainableconnections.org/squatchfoodwaste/), which recovers surplus edible food from restaurants and institutions and redistributes it to those in our community who need it most.
Energy and Green Building
And, while the sun may be scant around here, especially right now, alternative energy options are not! Sustainable Connections’ Energy and Green Building Program (https://sustainableconnections.org/programs/energy-green-building/) works to create a healthy built environment for people and the planet. They seek to facilitate a local economy powered by the efficient use of clean, renewable, and secure energy and buildings that live lightly on, or are even restorative to, our environment. Programs such as the Community Energy Challenge provide expert assistance to businesses and homes making energy upgrades, while events like the Green Building Slam bring the community together to envision a better future. Maybe you’ll consider joining one of their events, or seeing if your home could make an energy upgrade — maybe even install some solar panels like those you were admiring!
Housing & Smart Growth
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about housing. If you’ve recently moved to Whatcom County, perhaps you’ve noticed a high cost of living, including home prices and rent. Or maybe you’ve overheard folks in a coffee shop talking about how much the housing situation has changed in the last 10 years — heck, even the last two! Sustainable Connections’ Housing & Smart Growth Program (https://sustainableconnections.org/housing-smart-growth/) works to create vibrant and healthy built environments for both people and the planet. They support local businesses in this sector, advance the most cutting-edge sustainability practices, and contribute to an improved quality of life for our region.
I hope that answers your question, Newcomer — and Neighbor! Welcome to Whatcom. We’re glad to have you here.
Annika Sampson is a Sustainable Connections staff member.