The Capital Vision Christian Church in the northeast Olympia neighborhood is home to one of the more welcoming and productive community gardens in the area.
Blessed with a shade-free location, plenty of level growing ground and a cadre of congregation members dedicated to food security, the Capital Vision Community Garden is a green, vibrant expanse of healthy food, available to all comers, no questions asked.
On Friday the food stand at 1775 Yew Ave. N.E., Olympia, was brimming with squash, zucchini, green beans and cucumbers, all available free to the hungry public. Day-old bread and milk in the wintertime is also there for those in need.
Some 50,000 square-feet of church property is devoted to the organic community garden. About half the growing ground is occupied by raised beds anyone in the community can lease for $50 for a growing season. The rest is dedicated to growing free food for community members who need nourishment.
The garden motto is: “We Are Growing to Share!”
“It’s as simple as that,” said garden organizer said church member David Willis, whose immense physical stature matches his generosity and spirit.
Willis estimated that only about 10 percent of the 30 raised beds are leased by church members. The rest are tended to by community members from all over the Olympia area, including Jane Tate, a senior citizen who resides at a senior housing complex in another Olympia neighborhood, but visits her garden plot twice a week to sow seed, weed and harvest her vegetables.
“Just growing food is a great joy of my life,” she said, her straw bonnet decorated with fresh cut flowers.
Dan and Linda Talen live across the street from the community garden, and keep a watchful eye on it. They grow vegatables and herbs in two raised beds and are among the 70 members of the church congregation. Dan Talen is affectionately known as the garden ambassador.
“It’s an opportunity to grow food and meet new neighbors,” he said.
Two years ago David Willis approached church officials with the idea of converting part of the church property — bare land partially choked with blackberry vines — into a community garden. After much ground preparation, the garden got off to a modest start in 2012 with four raised beds and a small field for the free community garden.
Willis returned to the church trustees in February 2013, asking for and additional 40,000 square-feet of growing space. His request was granted, so he spent the next 100 days laying out the garden space, procuring lumber, soil and compost, rounding up volunteers and leasing garden space. The total cost to date is about $17,000, including thousands of dollars to pay the city water bill in the summer growing season. Much of those costs are being borne by the garden organizers out of their own pockets.
Some 23 community members signed up for the 30 raised garden beds this year. They are all well-attended and overflow with vegetables. The garden participation agreement they all sign calls on them to donate at least four hours a month to the free community garden. By the looks of things, this obligation is being met, and then some.
The church’s community space is more than a garden: It’s a welcoming site for anyone who want to use it, a place to relax, visit, read a book, lounge in the sun or sit in the shade of a recently built gazebo. An adjoining open field has been a de facto community dog park for years, and dogs were romping there Friday.
Last weekend, the community garden space was the scene of a wedding and a Sunday services, complete with a family-style barbecue after the sermon.
The garden has a perennial touch as well. Neighborhood volunteer Susi O’Bryan helped design an “edible forest” along the Yew Street frontage, a vegetated strip with a walkway lined with berry plants and trees that one day will provide shade without shading out the garden plots on the site’s northern boundary. To the south, more berry plants are going in the ground this year and next to complement the bounty of garden vegetables.
The community garden also features a pumpkin patch. Hundreds of pumpkins grown there will be given away to neighborhood kids come Halloween. One greenhouse on site to extend the growing season could be joined by three more next year.
A true sense of caring and giving emanates from the Capital Vision Community Garden. The church leaders and congregation believe their grounds are a gracious gift from the Lord. They are the stewards of this gift, committed to sharing it with anyone and everyone they encounter along the way.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444