The Olympia, Washington, Olympian
Daylight saving time arrived today, not a day too soon for those of us itching to poke around in the garden after a long and dreary winter.
At Horsefeathers Farm, the soil is still too cold and damp to get too excited about planting. But I expect to have my trusty, 30-year-old Troy Bilt rototiller fired up any day now to start preparing some of the garden for the early spring crops, such as spinach, peas and onions.
The anticipation that another growing season spawns in my heart and soul took a quantum leap this week after I visited the Olympia Kiwanis Food Bank Garden, home to one of the most worthy community-service projects one will ever find in South Sound.
Since 1992, club members have been growing organic vegetables on a 5/8-acre site on 11th Avenue Northwest between Overhulse and Kaiser roads on the outskirts of Olympia's west side, exclusively to feed hungry and needy members of the community.
"Kiwanis Club member Phil Paulsrude had the idea and owned the property," club member Derek Valley, retired director of the State Capitol Museum in Olympia, recalled as he escorted me to the garden property amid midweek showers and sun breaks that typify our early March weather.
When the property sold, the Kiwanis Club retained a contractual right to keep farming the land for the good of the community.
In the early years, produce was doled out to food banks, The Salvation Army, Union Gospel Mission and other sites where families in need gathered for food. Over time, a relationship developed between the club and the Thurston County Food Bank, which now distributes all of the food grown in the garden.
Last year alone, the Kiwanis Food Bank Garden produced 13,140 pounds of carrots, potatoes, summer and winter squash, beets, cabbage, and other sturdy, nonperishable vegetables for delivery to the food bank. It represented 70 percent of the fresh vegetables the food bank had to offer last year.
Just like me, Valley and a core group of about 16 club members are itching for the growing season to begin. They'll be spreading compost and tilling the soil and getting the early spring crops sown in the weeks ahead, highlighted by a big work party April 4. Already, club members have about 2,000 onion seeds planted in tiny pots filled with potting soil, sitting in a shed until they mature enough to plant in the garden.
The garden is encircled by a 9-foot-tall fence to ward off the deer. It features a drip irrigation system and is supported by two hoop houses and a greenhouse built by club members where vegetables either get their start or, like the peppers and tomatoes, are planted directly into the soil.
This is a practical, productive farm that relies on a lot of volunteer labor and sweat equity. Most of the work is done by hand, aided by hoes, rakes, wheelbarrows and shovels.
As you might expect, the food bank demand for service grows as the economic misery spreading across the country, the state and South Sound grows, too. In 2008, the food bank saw a 30 percent boost in clients served and plans on another spike in demand in 2009.
"With unemployment rising, the food bank's needs are greater than ever," agreed Don Leaf, a Kiwanis Club member and retired Thurston County environmental health director who works tirelessly on the food bank garden project.
Greater demand equals greater effort by the Kiwanis Club as it gears up for the 2009 growing season. Members are busy securing other garden plots in the South Sound urban area to work into the food bank garden network.
They're coordinating their efforts with Garden Raised Bounty and other urban gardening advocates to make sure 2009 results in a bountiful crop for a burgeoning clientele.
"We have seven different sites set up and ready for the growing season," Leaf said.
Want to help?
Do you have a garden space that is underutilized or could use some work to restore to production?
Would you and your neighbors like to start a neighborhood garden with the common goal of donating produce to the Thurston County Food Bank?
If the answer to either of these two questions is "yes," give Leaf (360-357-7188), Valley (360-943-4394) or the Thurston County Food Bank (360-352-8597) a call. They would be happy to help you grow food for a growing population of hungry people.
If they don't answer the phone, just leave a message. They're probably out at the farm, preparing the Olympia Kiwanis Food Bank Garden for another successful year.
John Dodge is a senior reporter and Sunday columnist for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mar 09 2009, 10:05 AM