Community garden upgrades will benefit local food banks
With funding from Wahkiakum Health and Human Services and Wahkiakum Community Garden volunteers, along with other Good Samaritans, there will be more fresh produce available at local food banks for a longer period each year, as part of of a combined effort to address food insecurity in our community.
“It’s always a question with us, about what we provide to food banks,” said Wahkiakum Community Garden volunteer Chris Holmes. “Two questions, are we providing what they need or what people are going to take and use, and are they getting enough?”
There are several plots in the community garden for people who want to grow their own produce, but for the master gardeners and other volunteers who put in hundreds of hours each year, their main focus – growing fresh produce for food banks local – continues to evolve.
At one point volunteers were bringing all of their produce to the Wahkiakum Food Bank in the Elochoman, but thanks to some people from Wahkiakum Health and Human Services, the Westend Food Pantry also receives fresh produce during the growing season.
Julie Johnston, WHHS Community Services Manager, and Heather Odom, Community Health Specialist, were able to secure funds to help the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) garden through a public health grant that supports community-level work related to Building Resilience in Communities (BRIC).
“One of the things we noticed with covid-19,” Johnston said, “food banks were getting so much food it was going to go to waste. That went away. The Westend started complaining that they weren’t getting as many anymore and people were getting used to it.”
One of their goals was to improve equitable access to healthy food and they realized that while the community garden had been supplying vegetables to one of the local food pantries for many seasons now, none were going to the West End.
When Johnston and Odom approached the garden volunteers about this, the volunteers quickly intervened, but they asked for bins to carry the produce. The bins were purchased through the grant, then WHHS worked with Wahkiakum on the Move to deliver the bins loaded with produce to the pantry while traveling on their way to Naselle.
“It took a little coordination,” Johnston said, “but the produce was successfully transported to the Westend Food Pantry throughout the summer.”
Every volunteer will be the first to tell you that they are getting older, and while they want to do more, they want to do it more efficiently, and that’s one of the ways the grant helps.
“It’s all done on their volunteer time, so anything we can do to make it more automated,” Odom said.
The number of volunteer hours this growing season was easily over 1,000, she added.
“We tried to improve productivity by improving our watering system, using less water but using it better,” Holmes said. “This year we decided, looking at two things, to increase productivity, and because most of us who run the garden are getting older, we are trying to find ways to make it more usable for garden owners as well. plots.”
They proposed to increase the number of raised beds in the part of the garden reserved for volunteers while adding raised beds for other people using the garden.
And thanks to the grant, they were able to bring electricity to the hoop house, extending their growing season, as well as the use of heated propagation mats that will allow them to start seeds earlier.
“It went well with our goal,” Johnston said, “we worked with them to come up with a wish list and used that grant to fund their needs.”
In addition to funding the electrical work, the grant paid for lumber for 10-11 new raised beds, hardware fabric to place in the bottom of the beds to protect against gophers and more, grow mats, pipe oozing for new beds, three new sturdy wheelbarrows and two lovely garden carts.
“They’ve really invested in it, so our plans are to dramatically increase our vegetable production and increase the availability and utilization of the plots,” Holmes said.
As for the other partners, Holmes was grateful to the City of Cathlamet.
“David McNally (City Public Works Manager) had his crew help us hook up and dig down to the lodge building where we hooked up the power,” he said. “They were super helpful with all that stuff.”
“The city council was very supportive of us when we raised this issue,” he added. “Dave Olson said as long as the city doesn’t have to pay for the project, we’re all for it.”
He also talked about adding compost bins and materials nearby, and other people who have helped along the way.
“Sam Longtain did all the transport and placement for free for this,” Holmes said. “He used his truck and his digger to do all that stuff.”
“Scott Anderson of the Shake Factory sold us the eco-blocks for what he paid for them 20 to 30 years ago,” Holmes added. “It was a quarter of what we were going to have to pay for the blocks alone. The closest place we could get them was Woodland, so we would have paid through the nose for trucking.”
“It all goes back to the community,” Holmes said of the grant, the expansion, the volunteer hours. “It’s about feeding people, helping them stay healthy and creating a sense of community. This year, even with the weird weather, we made about 1,500 pounds.”
Odom described the product pound count as “astronomical”.
“It should be even more next year,” she added. “This grant has supported many programs. She’s come out of covid-19. One of the good things.”