What we’ve got simmering here is stone soup.
You know the old story: Hungry travelers have a cooking pot, and nothing for it. They build a fire, fill the pot with water, toss in a stone and tell passing villagers the stone soup will be delicious when it gets a little garnish.
Everyone pitches in a carrot or an onion or a chicken wing, and they all end up with plenty of tasty soup to go around.
Paul Allen has tossed in $100,000.
Tucked into the $2,555,000 worth of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s spring round of grants is $100,000 to the Cascade Land Conservancy to support connections between community gardens and food banks.
Those connections already exist, and work well. This money is meant to energize them, add capacity to them and help them evolve into permanent relationships.
Cascade Land Conservancy and the City of Tacoma cooperate to pay community garden coordinator Kristen McIvor’s salary.
Based on that division, she spends 80 percent of her work time with 27 community gardens in Tacoma and 20 percent of her time with 13 in unincorporated Pierce County. She’s also helping with the development of eight more gardens.
Most of the gardens have risen on scrub property, with the city or Metro Parks paying for the fences, water lines and wood and soil for raised beds. Neighbors have designed them, and, in the case of the new gardens, built food bank beds into the mix.
They, and many home gardeners, give produce to food banks, a practice that gets fresh, high-value veggies to people who might otherwise be unable to afford them.
Thanks to Plant-a-Row pledges, abundance and generosity, it’s working pretty well. But no one knows exactly how well since gardenmania has bloomed over the past few years.
Emergency Food Network is, for the first time, weighing and tracking those dropped-off bundles of rhubarb and chard, and working toward a goal that would have fresh produce account for 60 percent of all donations, said its executive director, Helen McGovern.
That burst of new community gardens built on surplus city land and under-used park sites attracted the attention of the Allen foundation, which rewards good ideas, improves on them and shares them as models anyone can copy.
“This is the only grant of its kind that we are making,” said Bill Vesneski, director of evaluation, research and planning at the foundation. “We think that Tacoma and the work that Kristen has been doing is far ahead of what we see elsewhere in the region. We think you guys are developing the model for what this looks like. It really can serve as the example across the region.”
Thanks for noticing.
And we appreciate that $100,000, which will hire a person to, as McIvor put it, “bolster the sharing of the harvest.”
Part of that will involve matchmaking with gardeners and their food banks.
Thanks to Tacoma’s tasty diversity, food banks have different demands for foods. Some welcome cooking apples and exotic greens; others don’t. The same with squash and potatoes. This new coordinator will get starts for the right veggies to the right gardens.
Starts are just the start.
McIvor is working on a job description and hopes to have someone hired by November.
“This will be a full-time person who can be devoted to food justice and food access,” she said. “We want to look at innovative ways outside the system of sharing food, things like community kitchens and pot lucks.”
This week, she’ll meet with McGovern of EFN and Kevin Glackin-Coley of St. Leo Food Connection to talk about how the gardens, the gleaners, EFN’s Mother Earth Farm and food banks work well together and how they can collaborate to reach that 60 percent goal for fresh produce donations.
There is land for more gardens. More there is energy. Now there’s $100,000 worth of organization and innovation to add to this big pot of stone soup.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/street