On any given day, Cary Peterson has her hands deep into the garden at Good Cheer Food Bank, among other local gardens.
But it is not only the summer harvest with which this mentor to countless volunteers, youths and South Whidbey gardeners is concerned. Peterson’s interest goes much deeper than the roots of the vegetables she helps to plant; the bounty with which she helps to feed a hungry portion of the community.
“The main inspiration for “Fresh Food on the Table” is that we want to provide food all year round,” Peterson said.
She refers to the fact that the gardens at the Bayview neighborhood food bank feed families fresh food only until November.
“We need a year round harvest — vegetables from November to March too — so we can keep nutrition at a high level throughout the year,” she said.
To that end, Good Cheer has partnered with the Greenbank Farm Farmers Training Program, the South Whidbey Commons, the Whidbey Institute at Chinook and South Whidbey schools to create the Community Garden Leadership Apprentice Program. To support the program, the partners are throwing a dance party.
Everyone is invited to attend the Fresh Food on the Table Fundraiser Dinner and Square Dance at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 21 at Thomas Berry Hall in Clinton.
“We are a volunteer based garden,” Peterson reminded.
“To support the garden, we started these programs for leadership training that help us grow the food. This will help us to provide fresh food year round to the food bank while also providing education to the youths in the community,” Peterson said.
The event is free with appetizers and dinner, and, of course, the ever-amusing Jim Freeman on the mic directing a garden item auction with his usual good-natured wit.
“We’re hoping that people will give generously to help us raise the $15,000 we need to fund the apprenticeship and school garden programs, and purchase the winter vegetables for the food bank,” said Peterson.
“We get so much feedback from people who use the food bank and who say they appreciate it so much when they can feed their children healthy food.”
Deep Harvest Farm is the first incubator project of the Greenbank Farm Ag Training Center and will provide a place for the food bank to grow a winter crop.
The idea, Peterson said, is to use the resources already in place on the island to make the program work. Creating programs for young people makes sense, she said, if the next generation is going to continue what has already been started.
Three community garden apprentices were selected from 30 national applicants. They will learn how to manage and coordinate a community garden program, manage garden volunteers, budget resources, coordinate service learning volunteers from area schools, teach garden based curriculum to students in the school gardens, and mentor the teen garden apprentices.
After training, the apprentices will take leadership roles in one of the community gardens including the Good Cheer Garden, Whidbey Institute’s Westgarden, and the gardens at Bayview School and Langley Middle School. Especially important will be helping to coordinate the volunteer work parties at all of the gardens and mentor area youth in a Teen Garden Apprentice Program in partnership with the South Whidbey Commons.
Motivated high school aged students who wish to gain gardening and leadership skills through working in school and community gardens will receive hands-on, practical growing skills in small-scale food production combined with the leadership skills needed to help coordinate community gardening and service learning projects.
“This program is a great fit for the South Whidbey Commons’ goal of coming together for a common cause that benefits our local community, as well as providing workplace experience and leadership training to our local students,” said Gena Kraha, operations manager of the Commons.
Peterson sees it as a great solution to the challenge of providing fresh food year round to families who need it, while also providing valuable education to youths.
At the benefit, appetizers and live music with farmer-in-training Nathaniel Talbot is at 5 p.m.; dinner made from locally grown and donated food is at 6 p.m.; Freeman follows with a garden item auction; and at 8 p.m. is a square dance with the Tuckburrough Stringband and Mudhen Callers.
Call 221-0130 to reserve a place. The dinner is free, but please come to donate generously or donate online.
For more information visit www.goodcheergarden.wordpress.com.
The Whidbey Institute’s Thomas Berry Hall is at 6449 Old Pietila Road in Clinton.