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Giving garden: Christ the King Ministry Harvest fills need

Nov 3rd, 2015 | Category: Community

by Mary Vermillion

The congregation at Christ the King Church wants to feed people in need. The Bellingham church has taken a hands-on approach to this mission with its incredibly productive Harvest Ministry garden on Hannegan Road that this year alone delivered 38,000 pounds of produce to the church’s food bank.

In 2007, church member JoAnn Nelson planted the first vegetables on a rich plot of land donated by Hannegan Properties. Nelson’s brother Andy Vitaljic owns the sunny parcel just north of Hannegan Seafoods and under the gaze of Mount Baker. A few years later, the ministry garden took off when Nelson connected with the church’s food bank. Today, congregation volunteers actively farm 1.5 acres as a giving garden. Other than occasionally sampling while tending the rows or taking home a bruised tomato or pepper, the harvest is donated to the food bank in service of the church’s mission.

Some of the volunteers (above) harvests potatoes. A total of 38,000 pounds of produce were donated to the church’s food bank this year. Additional donors include Hannegan Seafoods (giving 20,000 pounds of fish this year), Avenue Bread, and 10,000 pounds of produce from area farmers and home gardeners. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN WILLIAMS

Some of the volunteers (above) harvests potatoes. A total of 38,000 pounds of produce were donated to the church’s food bank this year. Additional donors include Hannegan Seafoods (giving 20,000 pounds of fish this year), Avenue Bread, and 10,000 pounds of produce from area farmers and home gardeners. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN WILLIAMS

They plant what people like; lettuce, carrots, beets, beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and cabbage are popular. Gardener John Williams tracks the harvest and volunteer hours on detailed spreadsheets that reveal his 40-year career in marketing and sales at IBM. The planting season progresses through his color-coded, tabbed files with harvest and volunteer hours peaking during the summer. Notes document varieties planted as well as days to harvest and feeding habits. Graphs show planned versus actual yield.

Williams, who grew up on a Nebraska farm, feels the garden is a perfect match for his strengths. “I get to work in the soil, be outside and track the numbers,” he said. He also keeps the volunteers on task, creating and posting a weekly schedule of duties. Even as late as Oct. 20, the list of chores was lengthy: harvest rhubarb, kale, Swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes, onions, carrots and winter squash. And, of course, weeding and cleaning up.

About 40 volunteers contribute 3,000 hours of labor in the fields and two greenhouses, but the bulk of the work is shouldered by a core group of 12. They are mostly retirees, a mix of experienced and novice gardeners, who love getting their hands dirty and have a heart for the mission of feeding people in need. They also like to have a little fun; the CTK Harvest Ministry gardeners have been known to launch a good-hearted water fight on hot summer days.

But, judging by their annual yield, the group means business. While most of the gardeners are generalists who pitch in wherever needed, others play specific roles. John is the numbers guy; another volunteer manages the tomatoes; someone else babies the peppers; others pledge themselves to weeding.

During the growing season, the volunteers gather at the Hannegan field at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays to harvest and pack produce until noon. Then, they drive that week’s bounty to the church’s food bank in the Cascade Business Park on Guide Meridian for its 1 p.m. opening. In the summer when zucchini and other plants are multiplying overnight, they double up on harvesting, adding volunteer shifts on Mondays from 5:30-7 p.m.

When they arrive at the food bank, clients are already lined up and help bring in the fresh vegetables as well as fish donated by Hannegan Seafoods and bread contributed by Avenue Bread. Hannegan Seafoods donated 20,000 pounds of fish this year. Home gardeners and area farmers contribute another 10,000 pounds of produce. All the donations are needed. The food bank, which is open 1-3 p.m. every Tuesday, serves 500 people each week; the number rises to 700 on holidays.

Grants, in-kind donations and volunteers fuel the garden. “We are so grateful for all the people who donate,” Williams said. “Our water bill could be $300 to $400 a month. That’s an issue for other community gardens, but we’re really fortunate because Hannegan Properties provides our water and power. Thanks to grants and in-kind donations, it costs us about 2.6 cents per pound to raise produce.”

Christ the King Church donates $1,000 a year to cover costs. Williams’ former employer IBM has provided annual grants the past three years, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000. A web of local businesses provides generous in-kind support, including fish fertilizer from Hannegan Seafoods, and the WSU Community First Garden Project also supports the garden.

The mission extends to animals in need, too. The gardeners donate carrot tops, radish leaves and other greens to rescue animals. Nothing goes to waste. Williams and Nelson say they would like to grow even more but they would need more volunteers. To get involved, contact Williams at (360) 389-1258 or sawdad86@gmail.com.

 

Community Gardens series

Additional interviews with local community gardens and supporting organizations will be posted in upcoming issues. If your community garden would like to contribute, please contact editor@grownorthwest.com.

 

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