Community gardens bloom on Bainbridge

Dawn Snider digs in at the Johnson Farm community garden
Dawn Snider digs in at the Johnson Farm community garden

Below is a sneak peak of my story about Bainbridge Island’s community garden boom. Check the Sun on Monday for some additional photos and information….

Dawn Snider is hoping to deepen the shade of her faded green thumb.

It’s been almost three decades since she’s had a garden, but she can still remember the taste of backyard tomatoes, squash and herbs.

“It’s been a while, but I’m a gardener at heart,” the Minnesota native said as she and her partner Bruce White spread a load of rich, black soil into a small plot at the Johnson Farm community garden.

After a long stint living in the high desert of New Mexico, Snider and White recently moved to Bainbridge looking for an oasis of green.

The only problem was that their small patch of Bainbridge was crowded by concrete.

“We’re living in a townhouse in Winslow, with no yard and no room to garden,” she said.

Snider and White were ready to be caught up in a sudden burst of grassroots organizing to create community gardens on Bainbridge. Over the last few months, neighborhood and small-group gardens have taken shape on city-owned farmland, a low-income apartment complex and a half dozen private properties.

A gathering on March 2 provided the spark. Organized by a loose coalition of gardening groups and local food enthusiasts, the meeting didn’t have a specific aim, but it packed Bainbridge Commons with over 110 people.

“I was totally blown away by the response,” said Debbi Lester, one of the meeting’s organizers. Before meeting ended, attendees had already begun networking, assigning tasks and setting work dates for several of the gardens now underway.

The meeting, Lester said, tapped into a zeitgeist born out of souring economy, an increasingly urbanized downtown and a growing desire to eat healthy, locally-grown food.

Nationwide, more people are planting seeds for better food and bigger savings. The National Gardening Association reports that over 40 million American households will grow their own food this year. That’s a nearly 20 percent increase over last year.

Straddling the fence between suburban and rural, the island has plenty of spacious properties boasting sizable gardens. But many of the island’s most recent residents came to Bainbridge amid the condo boom of 2005 and 2006, when 330 units were built in Winslow.

With no space to enjoy one of the island’s most popular pastimes, condo dwellers were disappointed to find that the only two community gardens were either hard to get to or hard to get into; the garden at Battle Point Park is five miles from Winlsow and the downtown garden at Eagle Harbor Congregational Church often has a three-year wait list.

It was a visit to the Battle Point garden that helped convince White, a first-time gardener, to pitch in on a patch with Snider.

“I saw a woman at that garden who was just glowing,” he said. “I said, ‘That makes her happy. I’ve got to try it.”

White and Snider recently signed up for one of 14 garden spots that the Bainbridge-based Trust for Working Landscapes developed at the city-owned Johnson Farm.

The economic downturn also provided a strong incentive for starting a garden, she said.

“When we went to the farmers market, we couldn’t afford it,” said Snider, who found that the going rate for a bag of spinach and a bundle of kale is about $10 at the Bainbridge Farmers Market.

Prices for conventional produce are also on the rise. The World Bank reported last year that the global price of food has skyrocketed 80 percent since 2005.

Gardening movements tend to happen during tough economic times, said Elizabeth Gadbois, one of a growing number of Bainbridge private property owners who have offered their land for community garden use.

“(Garden) patches were very big during the Great Depression,” she said. “This is a way to take control and start to overcome what’s going on in the world.”

According to the NGA, gardeners will earn almost a 9-to-1 return on a garden investment. That means $70 spent on a garden can sprout $600 worth of produce during a year.

Saving money is part of the reason for the eight-plot garden at Island Terrace, a 48-unit low-income complex on High School Road.

“It’s been a hard economic year,” Island Terrace manager and resident Renee Levesque said. “With this garden, we want to get morale up and build a sense of self-worth.”

The garden, which received a truck load of soil this week, will include a children’s garden, wheelchair-accessible plots and a composting area.

The garden is intended as a community-builder – not just within Island Terrace, but with the larger community as well.

The gardeners will use one of the plots to supply the Helpline House food bank with fresh vegetables.

The opportunity to connect with people provided an equal measure of motivation as connecting to the soil, several community gardeners said.

Dave Shorett said the Eagle Harbor church garden where he has a plot serves as both a learning and social center.

“It’s almost like a club where we exchange ideas about how to grow food,” he said.

Shorett, who serves on the Bainbridge park board, would like to see more parks opened up to gardeners.

“Anything – especially downtown – that allows people to grow vegetables is a very, very good thing,” he said.

Lester is lobbying the park district to establish gardens at downtown’s Gideon Park and Madison Tot Lot.

Some residents near the parks have expressed concerns that the gardens may encroach on open play areas and increase traffic and parking burdens.

As some efforts to create community gardens on public lands have stalled, the growth of community gardens on private property has exploded.

Gadbois hired a farmer to rototill part of her 2.5 acres for community gardens last month. Within five days, 17 families had snatched up the plots.

Hilary Franz, a Bainbridge city councilwoman, is opening part of her 5-acre property to five families. Rather than have segmented plots, Franz and her group will work a large garden together and share the harvest.

Gadbois and Franz said they have no problem with a few choice strangers digging around in their backyards.

“One thing I get out of it is friendly faces stopping by,” Franz said.

Most of Gadbois’ and Franz’s gardeners are mothers with kids.

“While we’re working, weeding and planting seeds, the kids get to interact with their friends,” Franz said. “This is one big chance to get our kids outside and appreciating the land.”

Bainbridge-based Sound Food has set up a network to link would-be gardeners with a growing list of generous property owners.

“We’re just a scraggly group of volunteers trying to work as fast as we can,” said Sound Food’s Sallie Maron.

A gardner for almost 40 years, Maron said Bainbridge is made better with each new garden that takes root.

“These gardens are a warm, wonderful way of getting food to the table, enjoying the outdoors and sharing our abundance,” she said. “Plus, it just tastes good.”

Growing community
A work party to build the community garden at Island Terrace, a low-income apartment complex at the corner of Ferncliff Avenue and High School Road, is scheduled for May 9 starting at 11 a.m. The project also needs donations for soil and construction materials. For more information, contact Debbi Lester,

One thought on “Community gardens bloom on Bainbridge

  1. We are moving full speed ahead with creating a sustainable foodbank at the existing Port Orchard Nursery and will have 1,500 tomato starts to sell to gardeners as a fundraiser for the project. Contact gardensforsk@hotmail or for more information. We are also planning workshops and classes to help new gardeners.

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