A three-quarter acre patch of grass adjacent to the back parking lot of Enumclaw's Hope Lutheran Church will soon become much more than an occasional play area for youngsters who attend vacation Bible school.
That's because volunteers and leaders of both Hope Lutheran and New Life Foursquare Church are eager to begin digging and turn the property into a community garden.
The enterprise - expected to take three years to complete - is envisioned as part plotted garden for community use like the Pea Patch, part aesthetic garden for community contemplation and enjoyment, and part food source directly benefitting the food banks at Plateau Outreach Ministries and the Kiwanis at the Senior Center.
Fresh Local Produce Through Sustainable Farming
That last part will likely be the first to come to fruition later this year, according to Hope Lutheran Pastor Dan Wilson. Organizers have tentatively planned to begin planting one-quarter of the land as soon as possible with the goal of harvesting produce for the community later this year.
Joel and Loralei Hallet, who own Hallet Family Farm in Enumclaw, are the project's designated agriculture experts, said Wilson.
Driven by a desire to fix what they call a "very broken" food system in the U.S., the Hallets, who were members of New Life, spent more than a year learning about sustainable farming and growing their own food on a one-quarter acre plot in Auburn as part of Seattle Tilth Farm Works.
Editor's Note: Read more about the Hallet Family Farm.
Using a method called "deep mulching," the family saw a great yield of produce from their work, Joel said. And it will be this method they will try to implement at Hope Lutheran because aside from a more involved start-up phase, maintenance of the garden in the long run should be simple.
Deep mulching stems from the basic understanding that the soil is a living organism, he said. Whereas modern farming techniques like tilling effectively leave the soil vulnerable to the elements and nutrient depletion, deep mulching works to protect the soil by helping to contain moisture and nutrient content. It also minimizes weed growth because the mulch causes weed roots to remain shallow and easy to remove.
Joel couldn't say exactly what the output would be this year but referenced an effort on a similarly sized piece of land in British Columbia from which 20 families were able to meet 100 percent of their produce needs over the length of an entire year.
"A local garden supporting the food bank and those in need in our community is such a great vision," said POM Executive Director Britt Nelson. "It is so wonderful to offer families a variety."
Nelson said currently, the POM food bank serves between 70 and 100 families each week. Items offered each week depend on pantry stock and what the food bank receives from Northwest Harvest. The supplier reliably brings staples such as potatoes, onions, rice, beans, oatmeal, canned goods and frozen vegetables, and also makes an effort to provide fresh produce as well.
Meanwhile, local farmers and gardeners have also been very generous in sharing their crops, including carrots, lettuce, beans, pumpkins, squash, tomato plants, apples and pears, Nelson said.
About the Hope Lutheran/New Life project, "A garden that is timed so different crops ripen at different times would be ideal," she said. "Ideally the garden fresh food comes in the day before ... and all gets distributed the next day. Families really enjoy choosing from different foods, so whatever gardeners are successful growing would be very much appreciated."
A Meditation and Sensory Experience
Wilson said organizers want to be respectful of Hope Lutheran's neighbors in ensuring the project will not prove to be a disruption or eyesore, which was where the desire to also incorporate aesthetic elements to the garden originated.
That concern fits well with another aspect of sustainable farming, said Loralei Hallet, in which an assortment of flowers would need to be incorporated with the crops to provide what are called "pollination buffers" to support a complete ecosystem. The side effect of that, she said, is a truly beautiful garden.
In this beauty, visitors could perhaps find an environment conducive to quiet reflection and enjoyment of nature's bounty. Wilson said he'd personally love to see a sensory garden component installed in which those with sight difficulties are still able to enjoy the natural life in the garden.
When church members first considered what to do with the land, "we were asking 'what could we do for the entire community?'" said Wilson.
He notes there are apartment complexes that bookend the church and another senior apartment complex nearby. For residents there who don't have land on which to grow a garden, Wilson said this could prove to be a solution for those who'd like to try growing some of their own produce or simply raise a small garden, and have it be within walking distance from home.
Joel Hallet added that depending on interest, there could also be opportunities to further educate citizens interested in these farming techniques, as well as other gardening and even cooking classes for what to do with the produce that is grown.
None of these opportunities would be limited to members of Hope Lutheran and New Life either, said Wilson, though organizers' priority is to reach out to neighbors in the immediate vicinity.
Origin of this Vision
While Hope Lutheran leaders contemplated how to best use their land last year, New Life Foursquare Church was organizing the 5K Walk/Run event that benefits special education programs in the Enumclaw School District. And in between was Ramsey Graham, a member of Hope Lutheran and special education parent volunteer.
Both Wilson and the Hallets, who met Graham during the fundraiser event, credit her with making the connections between the two churches to get the project off the ground.
It's an endeavor that Wilson said he was excited about because it involves helping to feed the local community, fostering cooperation between local churches and promoting good growing techniques.
"As Christians, we want to be good stewards of the gifts that we've been given," he said. Additionally, "we strive to answer our calling to help our neighbors."