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Don Leaf, co-chairman of the Olympia Kiwanis food bank garden projects, carries away cabbage during harvest on the Capitol Campus on Friday.
Don Leaf, co-chairman of the Olympia Kiwanis food bank garden projects, carries away cabbage during harvest on the Capitol Campus on Friday. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Huge, concrete planter boxes on the east Capitol Campus, abandoned after state budget cuts 10 years ago, are alive with vegetables this summer to feed hungry community members.

The 11,000-square-foot vegetable garden is the latest addition to the network of plots the Olympia Kiwanis Club cultivates to raise food for the Thurston County Food Bank.

This one has the support of dozens of state employees from 12 state offices who work in the monolithic state buildings spread around the Capitol Campus.

“It’s a great use of unused public space,” said Leslie Goldstein, who works in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s policy office and has spent some of her spare time in the garden this spring and summer. “And people need to eat.”

Friday was cabbage harvest day at the Capitol Campus garden. More than 200 pounds of cabbage was plucked and boxed for same-day delivery to the food bank.

“Our customers always take the cabbage,” said food bank produce manager Sarah Swanson.

For a first year garden, the healthy looking potatoes, beans, onions, peas and other vegetables exceed the expectations of the garden sponsor, said Don Leaf, Kiwanis food gardens manager.

The five, 4-foot-high planter boxes were full of fallow, sandy soil that required a lot of manure to beef up soil nutrition, Leaf said. Four are now oases of green vegetables while the fifth is still clogged with old cherry tree stumps that need to be pulled.

“Even the weeds growing in there didn’t look healthy,” Leaf said.

The east Capitol Campus plaza has full exposure to the sun, and water lines near the boxes allowed the Kiwanis Club to easily install a drip irrigation system.

“So far the public has been supportive,” Leaf said. “We’ve had no vandalism or damage to the garden. We hope we can sustain it.”

Use of the property is based on a memorandum of understanding between the Kiwanis Club and the state Department of General Administration.

About a dozen state employees popped out of their offices on their lunch breaks to help harvest the cabbage, including Teri Chmielewski, a state Department of Employment Security employee. She was bagging up loose cabbage leaves.

“The leaves are going to my daughter’s house to feed her seven chickens,” Chmielewski said.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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