GRACE Project Supports Food Banks

In July 2017, the Kitsap Conservation District was awarded a $50,000 grant to grow technical assistance capacity for urban agriculture conservation projects. The awarded idea was the GRACE Project (Gardening for Restoration and Conservation Education), a community garden demonstrating best practices for urban agriculture through community education, outreach, and collaboration. The garden provides fresh produce to Central Kitsap Food Bank, and is staffed by inmates from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women.

The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Grant’s focus is in “urban areas with limited access to fresh and healthy foods.” You might think that doesn’t sound like Kitsap, but we qualify both as urban and as limited access, which refers to areas pinched by development, where traditional farming is under threat, such as small farms in Kitsap on the fringes of urban growth areas like Silverdale.

36 percent of Kitsap County land mass is incorporated or zoned for urban growth. Kingston is considered an urban growth area (UGA) even as it’s unincorporated, with limited areas of intensive urban development. In our busy lives there’s a lot to distract us from the fact that Kitsap is a region under pressure, as development encroaches, housing issues intensify, poverty increases even amid what looks like “success,” and farming is less assured.

Diane Fish, resource planner for the Conservation District and GRACE garden coordinator, estimates that she spends 10 hours per week on farm planning, and 20 hours on the Grace Project. She does outreach to farmers and helps them evaluate their goals. Asked how most farmers access the district’s support, Fish said they are usually well-linked on social media and that the district is a go-to resource for many. Got a problem with excess mud? The district has solutions.

Have livestock and want to make sure the creek running through your property remains clean? The district partners with Kitsap Public Works, Kitsap County Public Health District, and WSU Extension on Clean Water Kitsap. This includes backyard habitat programs, stream restoration, and raingardens for stormwater runoff in a county with extensive riparian areas, shoreline, and vulnerable watersheds. The district also partners with Pierce and Mason counties on Hood Canal concerns, and many watershed issues are shared.

District support for farmers and the food system includes resource management planning, irrigation design, runoff control, protection of water quality, anti-pollution measures, and water conservation. Modeling water conservation at the district site, they collect rainwater in a cistern with a 44,000 gallon capacity, which then drip irrigates the community garden sited there.

Part of their mission coincides with ShareNet’s mission on the subject of food insecurity. They are tasked with an analysis of logistics: where is the food, why are so many in need, where is the need, how does the food move around?

An eight-person crew from Mission Creek Corrections Center is available for nonprofit habitat planting, such as a stream bed restoration for example. The NACD Grant was conceived as an extension of the district’s work with Mission Creek. The crew gleaned recently at Pheasant Fields Farm in Silverdale, which resulted in 2,000 pounds of produce for Central Kitsap Food Bank and North Kitsap Fishline. That farm’s owner planted an unused parcel across the road specifically for Fishline.

While Fish is tasked with analysis, she’s also very hands on, and had been pruning tomato plants the morning we spoke. The NACD Grant is generous and flexible in the definition of what constitutes increasing access to fresh produce, and if one morning that means pruning tomato plants, Fish is glad to do it. Fish is also available through the GRACE project to lead 90 minute gardening workshops.

A pending EPA grant would fund the work the NACD Grant started for another two years, but is much more prescriptive. Current funding will take them through the start of November. Fish believes the community garden will continue, and after the intensive startup already done will require 20 hours or less per week in hands-on tasks like weeding and harvesting. The culinary program at Olympic College is considering internships which would provide service hours, but the food policy part of the NACD grant is more vulnerable to discontinuation.

Fish believes Kitsap needs an organized and coherent food policy. She wrote into the EPA grant a comprehensive needs study as well as funding for a refrigerated truck for summer for handling produce logistics, which could include spreading the bounty beyond Central Kitsap.

Asked if she could name one thing locals could do to contribute, Fish said, “Plant a row, everyone is related in the food ecosystem.” For more information, contact Diane Fish at 360-204-5529 x110 or d-fish@kitsapcd.org.

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