Food banks expect record yield of organic produce
Jefferson County food banks are hoping to break records by gathering more than 10,000 pounds of fresh, organically grown local produce this year.
Jefferson County Food Bank Farm and Gardens coordinator Kathy Ryan said the organization harvests produce, primarily winter greens, from local food bank gardens and gives them to the four local food banks; Port Townsend, Chimacum, Quilcene and Brinnon.
“Last year we brought in over 8,000 pounds of fresh organically-grown produce,” Ryan said. “This year we expect to easily top 10,000 pounds.”
Ryan added that this number could top 20,000 if the fruit yields of the Quimper Community Harvest reaches anywhere near their yield of over 12,300 pounds last year.
Part of Ryan’s optimism is based on the addition of three three new gardens: Finnriver Farms, Sunfield School in Port Hadlock, and another at a private residence on Woodland Hills, bringing the total to 10.
The largest is the Quimper Community Garden at the Quimper Grange, and others include the Port Townsend and Chimacum High School gardens.
The Quimper “Gleaners,” as they’re known, are volunteers who pick fruit from local trees that would otherwise go ungleaned. Coordinator Seth Rolland said much of the bulk from last year came from apples trees, which have their best output bi-annually. He- expects a lower yield this year.
The food bank gardens vary in size and nature. Of the three new gardens, Sunfield’s is one long farm row, the Finnriver Garden is between two orchards and is maintained by one of their farmers, and the garden on Woodland Hills had to be excavated from glacial till, a process that has taken years.
The food banks receive most of their fruit and vegetables from Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline, two organizations that provide food banks with excess crops from Washington farmers. Their supplies can dwindle in the offseason, and there was a need for a steady stream of crops year-round. The biggest gap in produce supply was in winter greens, and so the Food Bank Farm and Gardens began focusing on the production of those.
While giving The Leader a tour of the Port Townsend Food Bank on Wednesday, Ryan pointed out fresh chard, kale and lettuce from the Food Bank Gardens. “I know these kale,” she said, picking up a bundle of fresh russian red kale, “I probably picked them.”
The Food Bank has a walk-in cooler, allowing fresh produce that arrives in time for the Wednesday Food Bank to last until the Senior Food Bank on Saturday. For produce that prefers to sit at room temperature, such as onions and potatoes, a storage facility was opened in Port Hadlock for all the county’s food banks.
In addition, while all the local grocery stores would provide vegetables to the food bank, including organic veggies, these would all be past their prime, making them less than enticing to customers.
“It made the clients at the food bank kale eaters,” said Port Townsend Food Bank Manager Shirley Moss of the addition of local greens, explaining that customers who never touched the “old, tough kale” are now asking for the “fresh, tender” local kale. “It’s changed people’s attitudes towards some of the food.”
Ryan said food bank customers have told her their health has noticeably improved after starting to shop at the food bank.
The Food Bank Farm and Gardens started in 2012 as a response to a study by the WSU Jefferson County Extension indicating a critical need locally for fresh, organic produce for food bank users. They started their first garden at the Mountain View complex that houses the food bank, a garden that has since been given to the “Y,” and produced 800 pounds in their first year. The organization has grown considerably since then, incorporating as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“The last couple of years we have had people coming to us offering us use of their land because they heard about this in one way or another and wanted to do more,” Ryan said, adding that numerous local farms have provided starts to the gardens.
On Thursday, June 13, Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, took a tour of the Quimper Grange and PTHS food bank gardens, led by Ryan, along with representatives from the Port Townsend School District and Jefferson County organizations such as Olympic Biochar, a Port Townsend company that uses carbon waste product from the Port Townsend Paper Mill in the formation of both gardens’ soil.
“I really love the idea of connecting students to the landscape and having them have some vested interest,” Chapman said.
He also discussed the large role school gardens play in providing healthy food for students, especially in school districts like Port Townsend, in which over 50% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and therefore may not be able to afford healthy food at home.
“Obviously the need is great, and food banks do a tremendous job throughout our entire state of making sure our families have good healthy food,” Chapman said.
“I think Port Townsend is a leader with connecting community gardens with a food bank.”