Helpline wants to operate its own nursery? Why not?

“What if?” she asked in her quiet, modest way. “What if we buy it?”

For Barbara White-Davis, who was picking up six fruit trees at the Port Orchard Nursery, it was a natural question that came easily.

The small-town, family nursery is a mainstay of the community.

Over the years, she had appreciated all the care and love that Ebie and Kay and their family had put into it. But she also knew that it was time for the couple to retire and take a break from a lifetime of running a business.

So she asked the simple question, not knowing how it would reverberate around the community, gathering momentum wherever it flew.

“What if we buy it?”

“We? How could ‘we’ buy it?” That’s not how things work.

We all know that typically in situations like this developers swoop in so quickly you don’t see them coming until after they’ve bulldozed down the house, the greenhouses and the planting beds to leave soaring condos in their wake.

Within a month or so, with condos where the nursery stood, we would have almost forgotten that a family ran a thriving business from that site and that a house sat there built by a hardworking man from North Dakota.

If we, as we pass Buck’s A&W, another family-run business, would bother to reflect on Glen and Oleah Greseth and the kids who sacrificed and toiled as they provided to the community, we would quickly push away the bit of grief that comes with that memory.

We know how the world works.

Or do we? Condo sales are waning. Development money is hard to find.

What if we did buy it? What if we bought it and put our food bank there?

“Oh,” exclaimed Jennifer Hardison, executive director of SK Helpline. “Think of what we could do. Think of all the possibilities. Think of all the ways we could serve the needs of the community. By growing and producing our own food and teaching others to do so, we could truly be self-sustaining. Think of all those health and nutrition concerns we could address – diabetes, heart disease, obesity. We could make such a difference in the lives of so many people.”

So inspired, she takes the question to a meeting of the consortium of food bank managers and lets it bounce around the room.

The eyes of the others’ grow wide.

If it comes to pass, they ask her, “It might be possible for us to do a project like this. Maybe we could get vegetable starts from you for community gardens?”

“You’d be ahead of us. We’re only just dreaming of sites,” said Sallie Maron of Sustainable Bainbridge, the organization that just offered a discussion on “sustainable” or “recession-proof” gardens. “Can we stay in touch?”

“You could be the model for the county. In fact, you could be a model for the nation,” exclaimed Tim Lowell, an art instructor, who offers classes for kids and adults in mosaic glass. “I’d be willing to come out and teach classes on stepping stones to help you.”

“It’s a great idea,” gardening guru Ciscoe Morris said. “You could teach people how to grow their own food. Wonderful concept. Check my schedule. If there’s room, I’ll come to Port Orchard for a fundraiser.”

“There could be classes in food preservation – dehydration and canning – nutrition and cooking, right on site,” offered Kareen Stockton, owner of the Little Clam Bay Bed & Breakfast, who spent 20 years of her life working on a full scale farm. “We could help people acquire all those old-time skills that are good for your health and help you save money.”

“It’s truly a ‘teach a man to fish,’ opportunity,” said another member of Sustainable Bainbridge notes.

“The education can extend,” said Joe Machcinski, a certified landscape professional with the Washington Association of Landscape Professionals, who teaches at Clover Park Technical College and serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisory Board for South Kitsap High School. “Since the high school is just a few blocks away, you can connect with them.”

What if, he pondered, we could offer training so students (and adults) can get certified as professional horticulturists through WALP, or the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association (WSNLA)?

“We already offer job training for students in the transition program,” said Hardison. “With a nursery instead of just having the students fold clothes and sort through donations, we could be offering marketable skills. Plus, with the buildings on site, we can continue to offer our vendors a means to sell their wares. We can even call the gift shop, ‘The Blueberry Patch’ in honor of the fact that Glen and Oleah Greseth started their nursery by selling blueberry plants.”

Ebie and Kay are enthusiastic. “It’s a way to keep the nursery alive after 60 years of being in operation.”

Their eyes mist over when they also reflect that it would be a way to honor the hard work and memory of Glen Greseth, the founder, a former high school teacher, who started the horticulture program at SKHS, and his wife, Oleah. “They’d sure be able to rest easily knowing their legacy lives on.”

And, he adds, “It would definitely be sustaining. You wouldn’t need to worry about not having enough food to carry on the food bank’s mission. You could sell vegetables starts to everyone.”

This possibility mixed with the question of “What if?” takes on a life.

Imagine, people say, if we could produce enough vegetable starts that could be sold or given away to fill any number of community gardens popping up all around the county. Imagine how many people could be fed healthy, nutritious food?

And if the kitchen was remodeled to bring it up to USDA-certified commercial kitchen standards, donated produce could be processed, offering less waste and longer shelf life, suggests another excited supporter.

“You know God is with this project, the faith-filled owner of Olympic Bike Shop, Fred Karakas, noted. “He likes the idea of people taking care of and helping to feed their neighbors.”

When it is brought to the Helpline’s board, the normally reserved group responds energetically and enthusiastically, bringing to life the definition of the word, which comes from the Greek, “filled with God.”

“People will love and support this idea,” said Loretta Fritz, who owns and operates a 20-acre farm with her husband. “This community has such a heart for the food bank. The time is right to ask, ‘What if we bought the nursery?’ The time is right.”

“Really, when you think about it,” notes Barbara White-Davis, “even if we needed to raise $1 million dollars or even $1.5 million dollars to buy it and make any and all needed renovations, $1 million is only $1,000 from 1,000 people, or $100 from 10,000 people.”

Buying the Port Orchard Nursery to create a sustainable food bank with the goal of ensuring that no one in the community goes hungry and everyone has adequate fresh fruits and vegetables, started off differently.

It started as a shared vision with the simple question, “What if?”

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident