RICHLAND — Frosts are a thing of the past, 100 degrees days are still in the future, spring has finally come to the Mid-Columbia and gardeners are out tilling and planting.
If you are putting in veggies this year, Nathan Finch, coordinator of the Plant A Row For the Hungry program for Second Harvest Tri-Cities, has a request: Please earmark some of your harvest for Tri-City food banks.
Doug Nordwall of Richland is doing that, and so are three of his neighbors. Their homes back up to the walking trail off Leslie Road. Instead of the easement between their fences and the trail being a weed patch, Nordwall and his neighbors, with help from volunteers, are turning the ground into a lush, productive vegetable garden.
This is the third year Nordwall has grown produce for the food banks.
"At first I thought I'd just let the walkers and bikers take what they wanted," he said. But when Nordwall's project turned into something he couldn't handle on his own, he sought help from Second Harvest. Officials there suggested he contact Fields of Grace, a gleaning ministry run by West Side Church in Richland.
"(Fields of Grace) said they'd never done anything like this before but were willing to give it a shot," he said. Half a dozen volunteers showed up and helped him transform the easement into a 20-by-50-foot garden.
"We took 350 pounds of food to the food bank that year," Nordwall said.
In 2010, his two neighbors offered to turn their weedy easements into more garden. They harvested 1,600 pounds of produce that year.
"It was quite the kick up, or maybe we just got more proficient at gardening," Nordwall said.
This year, another neighbor is joining the fight against hunger. Nordwall estimates the garden has grown to about 5,000 square feet.
Finch said Plant a Row For the Hungry was started in the mid-1990s by an Alaskan garden writer looking for a way for gardeners to give back to the community.
"It's since spread across the nation," Finch said.
This is the first year Second Harvest Tri-Cities, the regional food bank supplying the smaller city food banks, has promoted the program.
"Second Harvest has always accepted donations of fresh produce but never really went out seeking it from individuals," said Kathye Kilgore, director of Second Harvest Tri-Cities.
For help, Finch has reached out to Washington State University Master Gardeners.
"They've been a huge help. Not only are they promising to grow extra for the food banks, but they're urging their neighbors and friends to do the same," Finch said. The vegetables grown in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden by the library on Union Street in Kennewick have always been donated to the food banks.
Finch has also contacted area schools and community garden organizers asking for donations. Two Kennewick schools, Legacy and Park Middle School, are planting gardens.
"It's a great learning opportunity for the kids," he said. "It ties in hunger relief with the importance of good nutrition. It underscores for them that some of their neighbors have difficulty gaining access to fresh produce. That there is an easy solution; just grow extra."
Even if you're not a gardener, you can help. Community and school gardens are always in need of donations -- cash and materials -- and volunteers.
When it comes to donating produce, Finch said sturdier veggies -- peppers, tomatoes, radishes -- are better choices than delicate fresh greens. And you don't need to have buckets of produce to donate.
"Second Harvest has more cold storage space than the other food banks. So we're able to collect small donations over a couple of days, put them together and then deliver them where they're needed most," Finch said.
Finch has offered to be the clearing house for donations of produce, materials and labor, just contact him at Second Harvest, 585-3924 or their website or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drop off your excess produce at Second Harvest, 810 E. Chemical Drive, Kennewick, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday. It will be weighed, and you'll receive a Plant A Row receipt, worth a $1.50 per pound tax deduction.
COMMUNITY GARDENING OPPORTUNITIES
Community gardens aren't as popular in the Tri-Cities as they are in other areas. But there are a few. Here's a list from the website of Confluence Community Action Network (CCAN), a group dedicated to promoting sustainability and green practices in Franklin and Benton counties.
* Ginger Wireman and Laura Rathbone, CCAN members, organized a garden off Metaline Avenue in Kennewick last year. This season they are looking for gardeners to adopt plots and help maintain them. For more information, to volunteer or reserve a garden plot, call Wireman, 528-9377. Or go to www.ccando.org.
* Meadow Springs Presbyterian Church, 215 Keene Road, Richland, has a garden. Call: 627-4190.
* All Saints Episcopal Church, 1322 Kimball Ave., Richland, has garden space. Call Lynn Curry: 943-1169.
* Reata Springs Baptist Church, 2881 Leslie Road, Richland, has free, 10-foot by 10-foot plots ready to plant. Water is supplied. Call: 628-8272, or Gary or Vannin McNair, 627-5991.
* Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 2505 W. 27th Ave., Kennewick, has garden space. Call: Jessica Gates, 586-1062.
* The community garden at Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland and the two run by the City of Richland are full for the season.