Garden organizers want to make sure students are fed

In a move that would be good for the local economy, as well as bellies, the Kingston Farm and Garden Co-op is making moves to expand its garden.

Ameena Deller

KINGSTON — In a move that would be good for the local economy, as well as bellies, the Kingston Farm and Garden Co-op is making moves to expand its garden.

Last year, the co-op’s Giving Garden produced nearly 700 pounds of organically grown vegetables. The co-op’s volunteer members donated the fresh produce to ShareNet’s food bank.

By the 2013-14 school year, members want the expanded harvest to be in the local schools’ cafeterias.

“We’ve got to find a way for our kids to benefit from local produce [and] local farms,” said Aline Bradley, a co-op volunteer who has taken on the Farm-to-School project.

The state Department of Agriculture had a Farm-to-School Program until 2011 when funding was cut. This does not mean schools cannot implement the program, said Tricia Sexton Kovacs, the program’s former director. Following National School Lunch Program guidelines, school nutritional directors are responsible for sourcing products served at schools.

Bradley said the North Kitsap School Board liked the idea of a program. However, certification is still needed by the nutritional director. The garden must obtain insurance  and comply with certain food safety practices, such as Good Agricultural Practices certification. Besides these, organizers plan on the garden becoming USDA-certified organic — no chemical pesticides or herbicides are used, just fresh compost, Bradley said.

Kingston High School is already involved. Bradley, who recently received her bachelor’s degree in education, began volunteering with the garden last year and wanted to find a way to interact with students. Her daughter, LaJoie, was a Kingston Honor Society member and began working in the garden with her mother. Knowing Honor Society members and other clubs require community service hours, they pitched the Giving Garden to a student adviser.

Putting in hours on Saturday mornings to tedious weeding and sometimes back-breaking harvest work can be difficult, but for LaJoie, it is worth it.

“It opens your eyes to the community,” she said. “At first I didn’t realize there were people in Kingston who couldn’t go to the store and buy vegetables.”

Bradley said organizers want to break some ground for North Kitsap so more farms can get involved in the future. “It’s an incredible effort and we’re so grateful to all the workers there,” said Mark Ince, executive director of ShareNet. “It’s an incredible benefit to the food bank to get that farm-fresh produce.”

Sexton Kovacs said 49 of 295 Washington school districts serve Washington-grown foods in school meals. Thirty-five of those purchase directly from a farm. The Bainbridge Island School District began a Farm-to-School initiative a few years ago, using student gardens and local farms.

Kinley Deller, president of the co-op and one of the founders, said the co-op had the Farm-to-School idea before Kingston had a co-op. The co-op was founded to save the Sacks Feed building, known as the “Ag hub of the North Kitsap area,” he said. But the co-op did not collect enough funding to buy the building (someone else bought the building and it is now being restored).

The co-op buys farming and gardening supplies, such as hay, tools and irrigation equipment, at wholesale price and sells to its members at cost plus shipping, Deller said.

All of the work that goes into the Giving Garden, and now the Farm-to-School garden, runs on volunteer power.

Cathy Curry, owner of Farrago Farms and Vineyard in Kingston, donated a plot of her land for the garden, which tripled in size this year — the garden is now 200 feet by 40 feet, with an additional 100 feet of pole beans for Farm-to-School. Several other farmers donated seedlings, compost materials and advice.

With the land expansion, Bradley said the co-op may be able to harvest more than 1,000 pounds of vegetables. Volunteers are always needed. Ince said he wants the food bank to run on local produce, and to educate patrons of the food bank on nutritional habits and healthier food choices.  “Kingston Farm and Co-op garden plays a part in that making that more real for people,” he said.

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