Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Giving Gardeners: Hazel Heights P-Patch

(L-R): Shanelle Donaldson, Jen Thompson, Carol Edmonson, and Beckey Sukovaty. Not pictured: Rosemary Ferrentino and Mia.
The Hazel Heights P-Patch, located in Fremont, officially opened on March 21st last year and though the gardeners there may be new to food bank gardening, they grew and shared over 350lbs with the Family Works Food Bank!  This is a significant amount for a first year garden with only 18 gardeners. 

With an innovative approach, amazing community support, and a dedicated volunteer team led by co-coordinators Jen Thompson and Rosemary Ferrentino, they will surely grow and share even more in 2011.  Much of this success comes from high gardener participation in a form of gleaning they call “light picking.” Almost every plot holder at Hazel Heights has agreed to let the food bank team harvest small amounts from his or her plot. Individual gardeners may not notice the absence of a few leaves or a handful of cherry tomatoes, but those small amounts from each plot add up!

Light picking supplements the harvest from the food bank plot and two community herb beds, but it also serves another purpose: preventing food waste. Not a bad idea, considering the fact that about 40% of all food in the US gets wasted. As giving garden co-coordinator Jen Thompson points out, “there’s no need for organic, fresh produce to go to waste.” At Hazel Heights, even the produce that is too unappetizing for the food bank gets put to use, whether it’s in green tomato jelly or the good old soup pot.

Of course, this style of harvesting can be time-consuming, and good communication is crucial. The gardeners at Hazel Heights use email to stay well connected. Gardeners alert coordinators to their vacation plans, so that volunteers can water their plot and harvest for donation. This year, the goal is to increase communication and education about year-round gardening. Over the past winter, there were enough overwintering greens to allow for monthly harvests for the food bank, but the food bank team sees room for improvement.

And perhaps the final ingredient in Hazel Heights’s recipe for success is community participation. Their 8,000 gallon cistern fills with water from neighboring rooftops and several key volunteers don’t even have plots. Their weekly work parties, which feature food, drinks, and socializing, have attracted several passerby. Some of these neighbors go on to offer plant starts, backyard gleaning opportunities, or even yard space for plants that would overwhelm the small food bank plot!

If you live nearby and would like to volunteer at Hazel Heights, please contact Carol Edmondson at edcatlick AT yahoo DOT com. Helping out at Hazel Heights offers not only the chance to do good, learn about gardening, and have fun with your neighbors. If you stay long enough in this hillside garden, you’re sure to catch a fabulous view of the sun setting over the Olympics. 

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