Growing food for urban hunger

"We've really lost our ability as a people to be self-sufficient and feed ourselves. Every time I see a national disaster I feel that," said Patti Peterson, executive director of the Bremerton Foodline.

Peterson is one of many Kitsap food workers who advocates educating people on how to plant and produce their own food. She believes that farming is not limited to those with acres of land. It can happen in containers and pots, front lawns, roofs and raised beds in alleys.

"It's so important that people learn how to grow food that's nutritious, especially the underprivileged in urban areas," said Peterson.

Bremerton Foodline regularly hands out produce to those who seek it. They have a program of 'produce rescue' from grocery stores like Safeway, Albertsons, or Central Market where volunteers separate bruised fruits and vegetables still fit for donation.

However, the winter months limit the hand outs available, and grocery stores can only do so much. According to Peterson, carts of produce brought in by volunteers are emptied in the first 20 minutes following opening. She said that relying on donations is only a small part of the equation. It is time for people to see the resources around them, she said.

"What is really a crime, I see homes with apple trees, apples all around them, fallen to the ground with maggots growing in them, and these were all sources of food gone to waste," said Peterson.

Peterson and a number of Central Kitsap farmers feel that the answer is educating city dwellers and low income families on how to grow for themselves, harvest, and even preserve their crops and cure meats for the hard winter months.

It is old frontier logic applied to urban hunger.

Glenn Huff and Jean Schanen, founders of Start Now Gardens in Bremerton, grow enough food on their city lot to feed their whole family and many friends. They grow kale in the alley, vegetables and fruit in beds in the front yard, on the roof, and on the carport.

"This is how we feed ourselves, and raise some food for others as well, but mainly, this is how we make the point that lawns are pretty much a wasteful relic of the value system that preceded global warming. This is a time of massive readjustment in how we live our lives," wrote Schanen.

Start Now Gardens is extremely devoted to bringing models like SOLEfood farm in Vancouver, B.C. to Bremerton.

"It is an example of using urban space to its fullest. Many, many growing beds will be operated by poor people to feed poor people, said Schanen. "Not only is it wonderful, but we really need it."

Schanen's team is working with Bremerton City Councilmember Greg Wheeler to discuss the possibility of an urban farming ordinance to transform abandoned, empty lots into collective food gardens.

"You have to see it to get an idea of just how much you can produce in a city neighborhood yard. If we got it going in town, all our food could come from Bremerton," said Schanen.

During the winter months, Start Now will be working to bring awareness to the community, recruiting interns to go out to talk to neighborhoods and show them how they can get started with the space that they have.

There are even talks of opening mini farmers markets for neighborhood growers in quick stop parking lots so that they can sell and barter their crops right near home.

However, there are a number of city codes that limit cooperative urban farming.

Roger Lubovich, Bremerton city attorney, explained that there are currently laws on the books which prohibit collective gardens in residential areas. Individuals are welcome to do whatever they please in their yards and homes, but everything must remain for single family use only.

"We can't have a community garden with 10 or 20 families becoming a commercial enterprise in a neighborhood zone," said Lubovich.

Parks which are authorized and regulated by the county can host community gardens. One example is Blueberry Park in East Bremerton which offers P-Patches to growers who pay rent on single lots.

While Start Now Gardens advocates any efforts at community farming, their approach is decidedly more grassroots. Jean wants legislation which will help each family become self-sufficient. She also encourages families helping each other.

"No, we can't open a farm store in our yard, but 10 people in a neighborhood could farm their yards and go have a farmers market stand together. We could open mini farmers markets for them in quick stop parking lots. A non profit might buy a big lot that is just growing grass with no benefit and the [authorities] could authorize growing food on that. These are all immediately possible," said Schanen.

Jim Moravec, of the now disbanded Bremerton Urban Garden Society, explains that contrary to popular belief there are many crops that work in a winter garden. Just because the temperatures are low doesn't mean that nothing will grow.

In fact, many in Moravec's circle will be harvesting leeks, parsnips, carrots, beets, cauliflower, and cabbage this winter season.

Another piece of the puzzle is preservation. Families can extend the life of their crop significantly if they learn how to can, pickle, and dehydrate.

Shannon Harkness leads Washington University Extension classes which show families inexpensive and safe ways to preserve their garden-grown foods.

"Conquer your fear! Learn how to safely pressure can low acid foods such as vegetables, seafood, and meats. We will be canning low acid vegetables," wrote Harkness of a lecture entitled 'Under Pressure.'

More traditional farmers like Nikki Johanson, owner of Pheasant Fields Farms, are exploring ways to extend the growing season as well. Johanson follows the work of winter gardening guru Eliot Coleman who uses moveable greenhouses to keep his crops going as the days get shorter.

Johanson explained that seasonal farming is slowly becoming a thing of the past. With demand for food increasing and our resources limited, she believes that farmers need to be growing food year round.

"This can really help with hunger. It is not just a supplement," said Johanson.

Though many crops have gone dormant after the fall harvest, Johanson is gearing up for a big new batch as early as February 10. She uses a system of hoop houses, a low-cost alternative to the greenhouse to protect her crop.

"People who have even a little land should really consider this. Winters are getting worse, but you can still grow quite a bit in there. And if you're not growing food on a plot, then at least grow in a bucket" said Johanson.

Many kitsap locals who have never gardened are hesitant to try. But local farmers like Johanson and urban planters like Schanen are urging education and community action.

"The time is coming with oil, the climate, and everything, the grocery stores might not be able keep feeding you. It improves your life so much to have the food in your own yard," said Schanen.







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