Volunteers donate bountiful harvest to local food bank
September 29, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Volunteers have harvested more than 300 pounds of organic peppers, squash and tomatoes for the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, and volunteers said the center can expect more bounty as summer comes to a close.
Organizers said the community garden attracted unprecedented support from gardeners and volunteers. The idea germinated with members of Sustainable Issaquah. AtWork! provided room for garden plots on the land it leases from the city.
In the spring, when volunteers cleared land for the garden and planted seeds, they set aside 25 percent of the space to benefit the less fortunate and the local food bank. Since then, volunteers harvested 315 pounds of eggplant, peppers, squash and tomatoes for the food bank. In some cases, recipients picked up fresh vegetables mere hours after the bounty was plucked from the vine.Sustainable Issaquah co-founder Lori Danielson said the project had drawn a variety of participants to plant everything from squash to sunflowers. Danielson and other organizers said the garden served to bring together people of different ages and economic and social backgrounds who might not have met otherwise.
“It is what a community garden should be,” Sustainable Issaquah co-founder Chantal Stevens said. “It’s a gathering place for the community.”
Community members formed Sustainable Issaquah to brainstorm and execute eco-friendly projects. Nonprofit AtWork! provides disabled people training to be contributing members of the community.
Dennis Wajda, AtWork! employment consultant and community liaison, said the garden thrived due to abundant sunshine and dedicated volunteers. AtWork! participants also helped tend garden plots — a task they enjoyed, Wajda said.
He characterized the community garden program as a success.
“It went off without a hitch,” he said. “We were really, really fortunate.”
Cherie Meier, food bank executive director, said the garden was a great way to bring fresh produce to the feeding program.
In addition to the haul already donated to the food bank, more produce is expected. Sustainable Issaquah planners will also plant additional vegetables as summer vegetables decline. Stevens said to expect kale, lettuces and radishes from the fall harvest.
The project also attracted residents to fight hunger with self-reliance. Stevens said some participants staved off hunger with organic produce they grew.
“There are definitely people going there because they absolutely need the food,” Stevens said.
Danielson said another goal of the community garden project was to engage community members and help foster new relationships. Organizers said many of the residents walked the garden and chatted with each other as they tended plants.
Volunteers worked about 20 plots all summer. Given the success of the program, organizers hope to add about 10 plots for the next growing season. Stevens said volunteers hope to add at least one wheelchair-accessible planting bed.
Stevens and Wajda said the program would not have been successful without the support of volunteers and donations of equipment, plants and seeds from local businesses. Seattle Tilth, a nonprofit organic gardening organization, also donated to the Issaquah program.
“I think it was time for Issaquah to have a good community garden,” Wajda said.
The local food bank has benefited because of another garden as well. A group from Seattle Tilth harvested lettuces, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables from the city’s Pickering Garden. The produce was then donated to the food bank.
City Resource Conservation Coordinator Micah Bonkowski said the city contracts with Seattle Tilth to offer classes about organic gardening. Vegetables grown at Pickering Garden are part of the program, he said.
Learn more about the community garden program at www.sustainableissaquah.org or e-mail organization co-founder Chantal Stevens at email@example.com.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.