But this summer, he and 10 other Komachin Middle School students are volunteering to tend 18 vegetable beds they're planting for low-income families.
"We have this garden, and we're not using it very much," he said. "There's nothing planted in here but weeds, so it was just a waste. There are people who need what we have."
The students aren't alone this planting season.
Farmers, backyard gardeners and groups across the county have begun planting seeds and tilling land in a unified effort to keep the Thurston County Food Bank's shelves stocked. Farm land that would normally lie fallow and surplus vegetables that would otherwise go to waste have found a new purpose.
The food bank had a record 58,055 client visits last year, said Robert Coit, executive director at the food bank. The number has increased 30 percent a month during the past seven months, in part because higher gasoline prices have forced people to funnel more of their paychecks into fueling their cars to drive to work. At the same time, the food bank has opened satellite sites at two large low-income apartment complexes.
The food bank gets donated produce from growers, but donations ebb in the cold months. So Coit uses cash donations and reserves to buy produce.
In February, Garden-Raised Bounty began pulling local growers together. Some, like GRuB and The Kiwanis Club, had grown for the food bank before. Others were newcomers. Fourteen groups or individual growers are now on board, with the combined goal of growing 30,000 pounds of food this year, said Blue Peetz, GRuB coordinator. The Gleaners Coalition, which dispatches volunteers to help farms harvest excess food, is also a partner.
Planting has begun at GRuB's greenhouse on Elliot Avenue and at The Kiwanis Club's half-acre farm near Mud Bay Road. The Kiwanis Club is the food bank's single largest donor, delivering 15,000 pounds of produce last year. They hope to match or surpass that amount this year, he said.
"It's a fairly productive small patch," said Don Leaf of The Kiwanis Club. "We've been producing fresh produce for the food bank for several years. We try to harvest when things are ripe and not overripe, and try to deliver it immediately."
In Rochester, the Helsing Junction Farm has set aside two acres for the food bank where they've planted carrots, beets, fennel and chard, said Susan Ujcic, co-owner. The Gleaners and H.E.A.R.T. Alternative High School students will help harvest.
The food bank also will benefit from the farm's community-supported agriculture program. Under CSA, members pay monthly for a full or half share and, in return, get weekly produce and flowers, often getting more food than the cost of their share. The farm is matching every $1 that CSA members donate, and the money is used to provide shares to food bank clients.
The Gleaners are organizing a giving garden, where they'll grow herbs and vegetables, at the Olympia Community Gardens and Bentley Farms, said Barry Cannon, who heads the group. The Gleaners will organize work parties to run the garden, its volunteers will keep any harvest they need and the rest will be donated to the food bank and other area emergency food and meal programs.
In addition, the Gleaners will launch a food preparation display starting May 24, where they'll prepare dishes at the food bank using the vegetables and herbs clients receive. They'll serve samples and hand out recipe kits, especially for vegetables people might not be familiar with, like kohlrabi, which is a cabbage that resembles a turnip.
"You give it to somebody and it's a weird-looking thing and people might not know what to do with it," Cannon said. "It's also nutritional teaching. Greens can be cooked so much they turn brown and limp. We'll teach them how to hold the nutrition in the vegetables."
Kiwanis Club member Don Leaf tills the soil Thursday morning as he and other members get ready for planting on their half-acre garden on 11th Avenue.
HOW TO HELP
Garden-Raised Bounty seeks donated seeds for food bank growers and low-income families who are planting vegetable gardens through its kitchen garden project.
Garden-Raised Bounty (GRUB)
telephone (360) 753.5522
Volunteers are needed at the Kiwanis Club's farm a few hours a week. Organizer Don Leaf can be reached at (360) 357.7188
The Gleaners Coalition needs volunteers to harvest and move food from the farms to the food bank. They are also raising funds for garden tools and seeking a donated biodiesel truck that runs for delivering food.
Anyone with a backyard garden can plant extra and contact the Gleaners Coalition for help harvesting or delivering the produce.
The Gleaners Coalition
telephone (360) 705.2375
Thurston County Food Bank
Left Foot Organics for Disabled People
Seattle P-Patch program for the hungry
Grow A Row for the poor
Community Gardens for the poor
Victory Gardens for the poor
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Organic Allotment Gardening for the poor
eco recycling: saving energy & water INTELLIGENTLY
Organic Gardening Technologies for teachers and students
and Gardening Therapy
fighting hunger: http://www.carbon.org http://www.trees.co.za http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk http://www.moringatrees.org http://www.permacultureinternational.org http://www.seedinternational.com.au http://www.permaculture.org.uk http://www.csa-india.org http://neemfoundation.org http://www.neemresource.com http://www.treesforlife.org http://www.growbiointensive.org