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Raised Beds and Community Gardening Boost Morale in Low Income Housing
By: Glean Me Lewis County
The Manor is home to about 30 low-income seniors. Resident Jean Fairgrieve said, "Many of our residents are trying to live on $700 a month, so fresh produce is sometimes scarce, especially near the end of the month when funds are running low. However, we all love to cook and we always appreciate and share gifts of produce."
The idea was the brainchild of Mary Baker, founder of National Foodcycle Week, and creator of Glean Me Lewis County. Baker was first contacted by Jean Fairgrieve during the April 2016 Foodcycle Week. "She made me aware of the community's desire for fresh produce," says Baker, "and when I found out they were located right across the street from the school garden, I thought that might be such a perfect match. The seniors could help caretake the garden in summer when school is not in session, ensuring it would be vibrant, clean and ready to go for fall classes, and also partake in the harvest."
However Baker says her communications to the Lewis County Master Gardeners and to the school district went unanswered. After two months, she gave up on the idea. The seniors were also initially discouraged, as the garden at that time was choked with weeds and untilled. "It looked like more than our frail backs could tackle," said Fairgrieve. However, the idea had taken root.
"We formed a garden team, and two of our members went to the Providence complex and looked at their raised beds," said Fairgrieve. "The members reported back that we probably wouldn't have room for beds that large, but smaller ones might work."
Fairgrieve contacted Carolyn Schoenborn of Mossyrock, who is associated with RISE Lewis County and Opportunity Community. Schoenborn suggested the idea to the St. John's social ministries committee. After the idea had been approved by United Marketing, the firm that manages the Section 8 complex, three volunteers from St. John's donated cedar boards and potting soil to build three waist-high beds.
At the same time, Baker finally heard back from the school district. "They were actually very interested. It just took a while for my inquiries to reach the right person." That person turned out to be Yesenia Mendez, an ELL education assistant heading up the garden project. "Yesenia came to the Manor to meet with the residents and their garden team, and it looks like it's a go," says Baker.
Fairgrieve says the residents of Chehalis Manor were delighted by the invitation to participate. "Shirley, our garden committee leader, raised her eleven kids on the vegetables she grew when her family was young, and she is pretty typical of the people here," says Fairgrieve. "Just knowing that people outside this complex care has made a world of difference in the morale around here. It's amazing what just a little bit of attention does for plants and for human beings!"
Baker is pleased that her initial idea has borne fruit. "It grew from one little idea into two initiatives. I love that, it's a real 'loaves and fishes' concept. I really believe that this kind of idea could spread and we'll see more raised beds and community gardens in low-income areas and neighborhoods."
Baker is currently working on a new site, GleanMe.org, which will enable farmers and individuals to pledge harvests and ask for volunteers to come glean the crop. "It's very successful in other areas," says Baker. "Many counties successfully glean over 30,000 pounds of food a year." Baker says anyone who registers a crop can indicate which charity or group they would like to receive the food, or allow her to decide. GleanMe will give 50% of each glean to the non-profit of choice, distribute 25% of the glean to participating volunteers, and give 25% to the property owner. "Even if you have a single fruit tree that you can't pick yourself, you can register to have it gleaned," says Baker.
Baker's brother, Gary Cooke, owns and operates Cooking Up Faith Farms (http://www.cookingupfaithfarms.org), which donates eggs, pork, beef and produce to the Lewis County Gospel Mission and Hub City Mission. Faith Farms is sponsoring the GleanMe program under their non-profit. "It's amazing how generous people are," says Baker, "but they often don't know where, when or how to deliver stuff. What we're doing is connecting the dots, and making it easier for people to help each other."
Fairgrieve's vision is even broader than that. A former employee of the county, Fairgrieve has been using her experience and connections to improve transportation options for the elderly and disabled. "I would also like to see Lewis County establish a summer lunch program for kids such as the programs in Thurston and other counties. God knows, there are a lot of kids in this county who are left unsupervised during the summer and who need at least one good meal per day to support the growing they do during the summer. Perhaps some of the farmers would donate produce to that kind of program, too."
More information about Glean Me Lewis County can be found on their website at http://www.gleanme.org.