She started as a Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB) volunteer in 2009, helping build some of the 2,500 kitchen gardens placed in the backyards of low-income families in Thurston and Mason counties in the past 20 years.
Flash forward four years into the waning weeks of summer and Katie Rains is four months into her new job as executive director of the Olympia-based non-profit whose other critical function in the community is working with at-risk Olympia High School students to grow and market organic food at the GRuB garden on Olympia’s west side and another new garden on property owned by the school district.
Since it incorporated in 2001, GRuB had been under the leadership of one of its two co-founders — Blue Peetz or Kim Gaffi. That all changed in April when Rains, 30, left her post as executive director of the Washington Free Clinic Association, a coalition of medical health clinics that relies on volunteer medical professionals to tend to tend to the medical needs of low-income and uninsured individuals and families.
Peetz directs the youth school program and Gaffi will return from a sabbatical in October to serve as GRuB director of programs. Rains, a graduate of The Evergreen State College graduate, said joining the GRuB team is a logical extension of her other community service work in the health field.
“The top five medical diagnosis — diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, depression and high cholesterol — are all diet-related,” she said. “So access to healthy, nutritious food is critical.”
And that’s GRuB’s over arching goal; bring marginalized people together around healthy, locally grown food. GRuB is one of those feel-good projects with a proven track record, teaching teamwork and growing self-esteem in teens struggling either at home or school or on the streets.
It benefits from strong community support: about one-third of the annual budget — this year it’s $570,000 — comes from community donors.
“That tells us we are on the right track — the community wants us here,” Rains said.
This summer, there are 28 teens working at the garden at the GRuB farm and 21 students under Peetz’s tutelage at the school district garden near Yelm Highway.
They are all paid a stipend — up to $150 a week for first-year and $200 a week for second-year students, who also serve as mentors for the newcomers. On Fridays, they can bring food they raise home to help feed their families.
They’re learning how to manage their money, and perhaps help their parents pay the bills.
The GRuB school program could benefit from the efforts this past legislative session of Rep. Chris Reykdal. D-Tumwater, who secured more than $200,000 in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s budget for a two-year pilot project aimed at reducing the number of high school dropouts.
The pilot project is modeled after GRuB and would allow at-risk students in two school districts to earn high school credits while growing food for low-income families, including their own. OSPI should have the grant applications ready within two weeks. GRuB is poised to apply, Rains said.
Rains, 30, is quickly becoming the public face of GRuB, representing the group in a variety of community projects to improve local food security, the health of youth and resiliency in families.
When she’s not working, the tall, auburn-haired woman with an easy smile enjoys cooking and stand-up paddle-boarding, and just took her first surfing lesson at Westport last weekend. Raised in Yakima, she attended both Washington State University and the University of Washington before moving from Seattle to Olympia in the fall of 2007 to finish her senior year of college at Evergreen with a program focus on community-building through gardening.
“I took a college field trip to the GRuB farm,” she said. “I remember thinking it was super cool.”
She started volunteering in the Kitchen Garden Project, which this year built 72 raised-bed gardens for low-income families and individuals. The project, started by community activist Richard Doss in 1993, and patterned after the Home Gardening Project in Portland, Ore., was adopted by Peetz and Gaffi in the late 1990s and became a GRuB mainstay program in 2001.
GRuB will kick off a Kitchen Garden Project fund raiser 6:30 p.m., Aug. 29 at the GRuB farm at 2016 Elliott Ave. N.W. with a free family night featuring a carnival, outdoor movie and other activities. The group’s main annual fund raiser is a fall harvest dinner set for Oct. 13 at the Alderbrook Inn on Hood Canal. For more information visit goodgrub.org.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com