Monday, November 21, 2011

Ecology Volunteers Harvest for Families in Need

By Johanna Ofner, Carbon Smart Initiative, Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) intern

On a recent cloudy Saturday, 35 volunteers – Ecology employees, St. Martin’s University students, Evergreen State College students, Kiwanis Club members, and Washington Conservation Corps members – came together to harvest potatoes and winter squash from the food bank garden located on the grounds of Ecology’s Lacey Headquarters.

Almost a ton of food, including 1650 pounds of potatoes and 40 pounds of winter squash, were donated to the Thurston County Food Bank for distribution to families in need!

The day was great fun! Thanks to the large turnout, all the potatoes were out of the ground and in crates by 11:30. After harvesting wrapped up, many folks took a break to enjoy a potluck lunch and get to know one another. A handful of committed volunteers remained after lunch to till the potato field, organize the tool shed and weed the garden fence-line of potentially invasive plants.

Planning for Sustainability

Ecology’s Sustainability Plan has long included “contributing to the economic, social and environmental well-being of the communities that host Ecology facilities” as a goal. The Sustainability Team, inspired by Olympia Kiwanis Club’s Capitol Campus garden, saw a food bank garden at Ecology as a great opportunity for employees to volunteer in support of the community.

It took several tries to find the right fit for Ecology. Charitable activities are carefully regulated to ensure appropriate use of state funds. To remain ethically responsible, employees volunteer at the food bank garden only on their own time. Work parties are held before work, during the lunch hour, after work and on weekends.

The food bank garden is dependent on partnerships. Ecology Administrative Services allowed access to the land and provided water for the garden’s drip irrigation system. Kiwanis provided use of their heavy equipment and best practices advice for starting and maintaining food bank gardens. The Washington Conservation Corps provided support for necessary one-time garden projects, such as the deer fence and drip irrigation system, through AmeriCorps funding that is dedicated to promoting community service.

Employees have generously donated used garden tools, use of their gardening equipment, a beautiful garden sign and more than 400 volunteer hours. All of these partners were vital to the success of the garden’s first growing season!

A big thanks to all the people who helped make the harvest day a success — it was a very enjoyable way to end the food bank garden’s first growing season!

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