Growing Food, Growing Community (GFGC) is the product of a motivated group of neighborhood volunteers who wanted to put a backyard greenhouse to good use. Over the past few years, they have connected with Lettuce Link to grow high-quality plant starts for P-Patch food bank gardeners. In 2011, they provided approximately 5,000 starts to P-Patch food bank gardens, community gardens, and low-income gardeners.
Although GFGC is a community effort, it is only possible with the enthusiastic support of Cyrus Appell, who owns the greenhouse and therefore stores much of the equipment, allows unrestricted daytime access to his yard for 2-3 volunteers each day, and fronts the water and electricity costs the greenhouse incurs.
That said, there are many potential locations for a similar project. In addition to private residences, many schools have greenhouses. You could fundraise to build a greenhouse on the property of a community organization or garden, church, etc. You could even invest in fluorescent lights and grow starts indoors!
In determining what to grow, it’s important to keep in mind the preferences of food bank clients, food banks, and the gardeners who will be growing the food. Early in the season, Lettuce Link surveyed P-Patch giving gardeners to see what starts they wanted and used the relative popularity of each request to guide the goals of GFGC. See the P-Patch Growing & Giving section for more recommendations.
There are two levels of involvement in GFGC:
Managers – this group of 5-7 volunteers oversees planning, fundraising, and day-to-day operations. Each manager is assigned one day of the week to check in on the greenhouse. He/she makes sure that plants are watered and fertilized as needed, sets to-dos for daily volunteers, and checks in with and updates the other managers as needed. The managers group also takes care of:
Daily volunteers – each daily volunteer is assigned one day of the week to work in the greenhouse, with 2-3 volunteers assigned to each day. They can work independently or arrange a time to meet (though the greenhouse can only comfortably hold two people). With a general guideline of 1 hour/week, they are responsible for:
In 2011, Lettuce Link took responsibility for distributing starts, and we found it worked best to set up a weekly system:
After surveying P-Patch gardeners, we were able to set goals and plan accordingly. By tracking how many trays we had seeded and/or transplanted as we went along, we were able to know when to stop and move onto another crop. We also learned:
Not all crops and varieties were equally popular. By taking notes along the way and soliciting feedback from gardeners at the end of the season, we learned which crops grew well, which ones failed to thrive, and how we could improve operations for next year.
Covering costs is a big concern for GFGC. In addition to repaying Cyrus for water and electricity expenses, the group also needs to pay for materials. We tried to mitigate these costs in several ways:
Of course, some fundraising was still necessary. One of the managers applied for a small grant from the City of Seattle, which we received. Another manager runs a small produce stand at her house and sold some of our extra starts for a suggested donation. This also proved to be a great outreach opportunity within the neighborhood.
Everybody likes plants. While working with the Wallingford Greenhouse, I noticed that anytime I went somewhere carrying a tray of plant starts, everyone wanted to talk to me! Some wanted to know what type of plants they were, some asked about the project, and others told me about their own gardens. Few could resist “petting” the plants, either. It was a great reminder that often times the interest may be there, but it takes something extra to spark a conversation.
Lettuce Link, a program Solid Ground program, is an innovative food and gardening program that works with a large volunteer network create a community where people have access to healthy and culturally appropriate food.