In recent weeks, the food bank at Spokane Valley Partners, 10814 E. Broadway Ave., received seven truckloads of plants from Green Thumb Nursery and four truckloads of plants from PlantLand Nursery. There were tomatoes, herbs, peppers, onions, eggplants and other plants.
Program director Connie Nelson was stunned by how many plants there were – so many the agency shared with other community centers.
“It took up two-thirds of the warehouse,” she said. Along with the plants, the food bank received bags and bags of seeds, which were packaged and distributed to clients interested in growing some of their own food. Fresh produce is a rare find for those who rely on a food bank.
“Nutrition is important,” Nelson said.
Nelson said tough economic times mean changing the way we live. During World War II, when resources were scarce, Americans planted victory gardens to supplement their groceries.
She said that as a food bank, their mission is to not only provide for residents’ health – physically, emotionally and financially – but to provide education to help her clients get out of poverty.
“Sustainable change starts at the grassroots level,” she said.
A community garden has been a dream of Nelson’s. For more than a year, she has been gathering interest in a community garden for her clients and the Spokane Valley community as a whole.
Modern Electric has provided almost 2 ½ acres of land across from Valley Mission Park. She is calling the plot of land Common Ground Gardens for now, but hopes the community will come up with a name to claim ownership of the project.
“I have a vision,” she said. She described a community garden with raised beds for wheelchair accessibility. A gazebo in the garden could provide a place for live music and harvest festivals.
Nelson has five goals surrounding the project. The first is to increase access of nutritionally dense food to residents in Spokane Valley.
Many people living in poverty live in apartments or property they don’t own. A community garden would provide a place for them to grow their own food – a place that would be there even if they moved.
She said there would be a small fee for residents who would like to work a garden, both to cover irrigation costs and to add a sense of ownership for the garden.
“You paid for that, you own it,” she said.
For those who grow their own produce, she knows they often grow more than their household can use, even after sharing with neighbors or bringing their surplus to the food bank. She said Spokane Valley Partners offers classes – two in English and one in Russian – that specialize in food preservation.
Another goal of the garden is to increase the incomes of local families by creating a farmers market at the garden site. She said she wants to connect the gardeners with local chefs who like to buy fresh, local produce to serve in restaurants.
Creating small businesses is another goal. She said she read about a program that grew from the Los Angeles riots in the early 1990s. A group of high school students created a community garden to improve their neighborhood. They distributed food to their neighbors. From there, some of them created their own salad dressing which they market and sell through grocery stores. She said the skills young people gain from a small business enterprise will help them later in life.
The final goal is to help the food bank depend less on external food vendors. Gardeners can contribute part of their crops to the food bank.
Nelson’s plan is rolling into action. She wants to put together an advisory committee and get the infrastructure of the garden ready to go by February. She hopes that in March, residents can start signing up for plots, in time for spring planting.
She echoes a famous movie when she thinks about the future of Common Ground.
“I truly believe that if we build it, they will come,” she said.