OCCAC started an on-site demonstration garden located at the Okanogan food bank and distribution center in 2009. Successive gardens have been planted, maintained and harvested through 2012, with plans for continual use of this educational tool and fresh produce source for the adjacent food bank. Supplying a direct source of gleaned produce to a specific food bank is a great way to build a produce recovery program of any scale. Below are a few step-by-step recommendations based off of the fourth season at OCCAC’s on-site demonstration garden.
OCCAC’s on-site model:
Decide on amounts, type, size, etc. Pick a baseline of “how much” produce you want to grow and fit the size of garden to your needs. Also determine which “style” of gardening to utilize. For example, OCCAC grows food for one food bank, uses twelve apple bins filled with a dirt/compost/manure blend and utilizes the square-foot method of gardening with organic practices. Hashing out these details prior to any further planning is essential. Identify the necessary materials and supplies necessary for the correct location and scale of the project. Identify potential donations to project. Designate the management of the garden to staff, volunteers, lead gardeners or groups of unskilled volunteers. Figuring out the specific order of operation will help down the line.
For the project construction, building as well as planting events, can help generate community interest in the project. A maintenance schedule should also be arranged in advance. Assign proper staff hours and/or volunteer hours to upkeep, maintenance, replanting etc.
Coordinate with food bank distribution schedule and/or secure a convenient storage location with a cooler available.
Develop a baseline goal for the project and how it will impact the food bank. For example, “increase fresh produce by one serving” or a survey of food bank clientele opinions on access to fresh produce before and after the season are used at OCCAC. These baselines can be utilized for larger scale projects down the road or for future grants.
Review surveys, production amounts, garden plans, successes, failures and incorporate all information into future planning.
OCCAC planted nine gardens this past spring, and one garden midsummer, as part of the G.G.G.T (Gleaning, Gardening and Growing Together) program. The gardening component of the grant is intended to provide an accessible gardening experience to first-time gardeners, and provide inspiration and education for newly developing home gardeners. While community gardens are successful elsewhere, a history of failed attempts at community gardens and the geography of this region dictated a different approach. The rural setting and travel required to access food banks, grocery stores or farmable land vary throughout the region. By building gardens in the families’ backyards, similar to the victory gardens during WWII, food security and access to fresh produce are literally outside the doorstep for low-income families. In times of food insecurity, what would you rather have in your front yard, grass, or a vegetable patch?
OCCAC’s Square Foot Gardens were 8’x4’ foot raised bed gardens, complete with all materials, seeds, plants and irrigation elements necessary to make the gardening process as user-friendly as possible. Through OCCAC grant sponsors and collaborators, gardens were planted countywide. Below are 10 points to consider before starting a home garden construction program.
Divide budget to amount of desired gardens for program based on cost-for-cost estimates on a full garden build and planting. Choose type of garden and materials. Look for donation sources for materials like plant starts, manure, seeds, etc.
Define selection criteria for recipients, educators/mentors, volunteer groups. OCCAC applications included a “needs survey.” Also considered were general criteria requirements, rental versus ownership information. This information was compiled and used to develop a rank-based system that took into account the date applied and proximity to available mentors. Site visits were used to attain important information in the process of deciding on recipients. For example, you need to see if a garden is even feasible at the families’ dwellings. Other factors considered included availability of a water source and seasonal versus permanent housing. A similar screening was done for the mentors and volunteer groups. Inform all parties of their roles and the overarching goals of the project before they commit.
Campaign for applicants. Utilize media and program outreach venues. Review applicants based on pre-determined criteria.
Select applicants and determine schedules. Give applicants two date options to commit to a garden installation/planting and then schedule based on their preference. Keep in mind that if a recipient can’t commit to the build they may not commit to the entire growing season. For example, an applicant family failed to be at the garden build on the assigned date so a second date was made. A month after install, a site-check by the assigned mentor found the garden neglected.
Provide pre-season engagement for applicants. A lead-up to the gardening season was not done this year but is built into OCCAC’s grant for next year. Assessing families before the gardening season can help “weed out” commitment levels and can help determine what skill level the family has at present time prior to the program. Pre-season engagement was used via a mentor-training workshop teaching the agency’s selected gardening methods.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule! Scheduling was the biggest challenge faced this season at OCCAC. A late growing season, due to the long wet spring weather, plus multiple recipient cancellations led to a back-log of the garden installations and plantings. Pre-determine dates and limit recipients/volunteers to two options and stick to them no matter the weather. Assure materials are on-hand prior to assigned dates.
Growing season tracking and site visits are recommended to help recipients succeed. OCCAC partnered with individual mentors as advocates for the project after the builds. The end-of-season should include surveys, reviews and comments from all groups to incorporate into the next year of gardening and for measuring grant requirements of the program.
Review the program and begin strategic planning for the next season.
Each of the following methods are self-replicating “pass it on” types of food security options:
If the above listed concepts and those similar to them, were to be utilized and embraced, the number of food bank clients in need would decrease dramatically. Why isn’t this happening, and what can be done to address that issue?
The OCCAC Food Bank serves as a distribution point for all of the food banks all over Okanogan county. We work to glean from local growers, and offer training for raised bed gardening and food preservation techniquest in order to provide a holistic approach to the issue of Food Security.