“Fresh Food on the Table” serves up another year of locally grown produce for Good Cheer Food Bank.
The Good Cheer Garden is a familiar sight to all who travel down Bayview Road. On any given Wednesday from spring through fall, community members can be seen digging, planting, harvesting or socializing over lunch at the picnic table.
Last year, these volunteers grew more than 5,000 pounds of produce for Good Cheer Food Bank. An additional 8,000 pounds of island-grown produce made it onto the Food Bank shelves. The fresh, local fruits and vegetables were donated, gleaned and purchased from a network of farms and gardens tucked in and around South Whidbey.
Meanwhile, 2012 was a milestone; the first year that Good Cheer Food Bank clients had access to locally grown vegetables all year long.
“In previous years there was nothing there in the winter,” said Cary Peterson, Good Cheer Food Bank coordinator.
Building links with local farms ensures the year-round supply of vegetables, according to Peterson. Last year, Good Cheer purchased winter produce from Deep Harvest Farm. Carrots, kale, collards and beets will again be purchased from Deep Harvest proprietors Annie Jesperson and Nathaniel Talbot, who are in their second year of commercial production on the island. Additionally, Greenbank Farm will donate two 100-foot rows of carrots and winter squash.
“Supporting a thriving network of farms and gardens is a way to create a hunger-free community,” Peterson said.
Stemming from these gardens is an array of educational programs that touch the lives of youths and adults across our community.
These efforts come together in “Fresh Food on the Table.”
A program of the Good Cheer Food Bank, Fresh Food on the Table supports the Food Bank’s mission of “creating a hunger-free community” and strengthens local food security by bringing together community partners, farmers, food bank clients, volunteers and community members of all ages.
Peterson said each contributes a unique piece, be it growing produce for the food bank or playing a role in one of the program’s many levels of food-based education.
Central to Fresh Food on the Table is the Community Gardening Leadership Training. Now in its third year, four apprentices come from across the U.S. and Canada to serve in the South Whidbey community and develop skills in agriculture, community leadership, garden-based education and food bank management.
This year, apprentice Alexa MacAulay is taking a leadership role in the Westgarden at the Whidbey Institute, while Camille Green works in the Good Cheer Garden.
The Langley Middle School garden and the South Whidbey Academy gardens provide a hands-on environment where lessons are taught that support core curriculum educational requirements. Casey Jackson, the school garden apprentice, is developing lessons about science and sustainability.
The Food Bank apprentice, arriving soon, will play a leadership role in the Good Cheer Food Bank and kitchen. He or she will learn about the food bank’s unique points system which emphasizes healthy food choices, zero waste practices and sustainable gardening. This apprentice will also develop leadership skills in fresh food management, create fresh food cooking demonstrations, participate in culinary education for teens from the South Whidbey Commons and lead volunteers in “putting up for the winter parties.”
And the side effects of more fresh veggies in the diet?
Peterson saw a positive change in patrons’ attitude from having fresh produce in the winter.
“You wouldn’t believe the health benefits people are saying, it’s amazing,” she said. “Good Cheer Food Bank clients are reporting weight loss and experiencing health benefits. Maybe most important of all, the kids are eating more vegetables.”