With twice the garden space, Kiwanis Club to grow tons for food bank

Big plans are in store for the Olympia Kiwanis Club food bank gardens in 2010.

Growing vegetables for Thurston County Food Bank in at least 10 locations, the Olympia Kiwanis expect to have about 1.5 acres under cultivation this year, double the growing ground it nurtured last year, club member Don Leaf said.

And last year’s production of fresh veggies was – pun intended – no small potatoes, weighing in at a robust 24,000 pounds.

Urban agriculture is on the rise in Thurston County, and the Kiwanis Club is a big part of that resurgence.

One of the likely additions to the Kiwanis garden sites is nearly 13,000 square feet of unused planter boxes on the state Capitol Campus just south of the Employment Security Building. If first lady Michelle Obama can have a garden at the White House, why not a garden on the state Capitol grounds?

I visited the club’s main garden this week on 11th Avenue Northwest between Kaiser and Overhulse roads just west of Olympia city limits on the west side.

A biting winter wind was blowing in from the southwest, but there were signs of the spring vegetable growing season stirring into action.

Rows of freshly planted rhubarb lined the garden’s perimeter fence designed to keep the deer away. Inside, a good portion of the 0.75 acres under cultivation was freshly tilled and two rows of peas were already planted.

In the weeks ahead as the weather warms and the sun climbs higher in the sky, the 15 to 20 club members who donate hundreds of volunteer hours to the worthy cause of growing food for needy community members will sow the fields with beans, squash, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, salad greens and other vegetables, then tend them to maturity.

“We get 15,000 pounds of produce a year off the main garden,” Leaf said, a hint of pride in his voice.

There’s more going on at the west side garden than just growing food. Club members also have a $35,000 capital improvement project in the works this spring called “Raise the Barn.”

For the past 20 years, Kiwanis Club members have worked and stored their farm equipment in a leaky, dilapidated, A-frame building.

Not much longer.

This spring, with the help of community donations and building support from the Olympia Master Builders, the club will erect a two-story, 1,200-square-foot barn that will serve as a place to store equipment, process crops, and gather students and other volunteers for garden orientations, project coordinator Derek Valley explained.

OMB member and commercial contractor Stuart Drebick of Adroit Contractors has agreed to donate his time and expertise to the project. In the days ahead, he’ll be prodding other members of Olympia Master Builders to donate building materials and labor.

“I’m going to get it done,” Drebick said. “We should have it built by Memorial Day.”

Drebick has another connection to the project. He and his father, John Drebick, a Kiwanis member and longtime commercial real estate developer in Olympia, salvaged a 1920s Howe Scale Co. weighing machine from the former Eads Transfer Co. warehouse in downtown Olympia in the early 1980s when the building was demolished to make way for Heritage Bank.

The hefty commercial scale was used from 1923 to 1962 at William and Edith Mae Eads’ business, where the motto was “You call, we haul.” It was stored in John Drebick’s barn for nearly 20 years, Now the pieces are in Drebick’s shop, awaiting cleaning, powder coating of the metal parts and painting of the scale’s wood structure.

Then it will be reassembled and installed in the Kiwanis Club’s new barn, and put to good use.

“For the last 10 years we’ve been weighing our produce on a scale that only goes up to 80 pounds,” Valley said. “This scale goes up to 2,500 pounds.” It means that getting the food from the garden to the consumer will go quicker, record keeping will be simplified, and a piece of community history will be preserved and revived.

Anyone interested in contributing to the Raise the Barn project can send their donations to Olympia Kiwanis Foundation, PO Box 1847, Olympia, WA 98507-1847.

Or come to Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 Eighth Ave. S.E., Olympia, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., March 21 for the 22nd Annual Blintzapalooza, the South Sound Jewish community’s popular bake and book sale fundraiser. This year, one of the four community causes benefitting from money raised is, you guessed it, the Raise the Barn project.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444