John Lodise likes to check on the veggies growing in three raised beds he helped build just a few steps away from whirring traffic on Division Street in Bend.
Lodise checks the soil and makes sure the plants have enough water and that conditions are right for the cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, radishes, onions and tomatoes sprouting in the new garden. Before a few weeks ago, he had never gardened before, but he’s taken to it.
“I grew up in New York City and Los Angeles; to me, this is something new,” Lodise said.
The raised beds mark the first vegetables grown at The Shepherd’s House in Bend, a Christian shelter for men, and the project means something to Lodise and some of the other residents working on the effort.
“I think it’s a great approach,” said Lodise. “Having something positive to work on (and) something tangible to really focus on.”
The garden was built as part of a new Seed to Supper program from the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance. The men at The Shepherd’s House first took a series of classes about gardening led by knowledgeable volunteers and then put that knowledge to work in their small garden. They helped install the watering system and lattice to provide plants a break from the wind (and passing cars).
Similar efforts are underway at the St. Vincent de Paul housing development in southeast Bend, where eight raised beds were built and classes just started on Thursday.
Jane Sabin-Davis, board chair for the alliance, said the goal is to teach people how to grow their own food “from beginning to end; how to establish a garden and keep it going.”
Julieanne Moratti-Greene, a board member for the alliance and organizer for the project, said she became passionate about the idea after working for years as a nurse practitioner. She believes one of the biggest ways people can improve their health is through “learning how to grow your own food and learning how to eat better.”
“It affects the root cause of many illnesses,” said Moratti-Greene, who works at Volunteers in Medicine, which also hosted a series of gardening classes for staff and patients. “The ultimate vision (for Seeds to Supper) is for people to have a chance to garden in a basic way to provide food for themselves.”
The Seed to Supper program was started by the Oregon Food Bank and has been a successful venture in the Portland area. Individuals undergo a six-week course from gardening experts, while also getting hands-on experience growing their own food. Bend’s Seed to Supper program is one of the first pilot projects outside of the Portland area, and materials have been tailored to fit the more challenging High Desert gardening environment, Sabin-Davis said.
The group received a small grant to help fund gardening supplies and plant starts. Another grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust will allow the alliance to hire a part-time staff person, who will be the group’s first staff member. Volunteers, who are community members passionate about local food and gardening, are teaching all of the classes, helping build the gardens and serving as “garden fairies.” A few such fairies check in on the gardens at The Shepherd’s House and St. Vincent de Paul to make sure they are doing well. The volunteers ensure the plants are getting enough water (one installed a drip system because the beds were too dry) and teach residents basics, like how to thin radishes.
Sabin-Davis says some volunteers find the work uniquely satisfying. “They find teaching people how to grow their own to be gratifying in a way that donating food isn’t,” she said.
Shepherd’s House Executive Director Curt Floski said he was excited to bring the Seed to Supper program to the organization. His organization recently started a new Healthy Kitchen Initiatives, which includes the building of the facility’s first fully functional kitchen. Floski said the Shepherd’s House’s goal is to “eat local, buy local and serve local” and to focus on nutrition, which he says can help residents who are dealing with physical and mental challenges.
Starting a garden, even in the unlikely patch of dirt between a busy road and a parking lot, is part of that focus on health and nutrition. Floski has high hopes for the project. “It’s a good pilot for this year. We’ll maybe even expand next year,” he said.
Ideally, Sabin-Davis said the group would like to replicate this effort at many other sites throughout Central Oregon, including in Crook and Jefferson counties. “We’re excited about the potential for this,” she said. “We could spring up gardens all over the place!”
Sabin-Davis is leery of starting something the group cannot continue. She doesn’t want to build beds that then stop being used.
“We have to figure out how to assure some sort of longevity for these gardens,” said Sabin-Davis. “There’s no sense of taking it under your belt and then not following through.” During the winter, one of the goals of the food and farm alliance will be to figure out how to ensure Seed to Supper is sustainable locally.
The group is also piloting a new program here, starting in early fall, called Cooking Matters. The idea, Sabin-Davis explains, is for the class to be a natural extension of Seed to Supper, teaching people what to do with the items produced in the gardens. The cooking class is a partnership with Central Oregon Pediatric Associates and the Cascade Culinary Institute.
Sabin-Davis has enjoyed sharing her love of growing food with the community.
“It’s so gratifying,” she said. “They get so excited, like you do when you plant your first garden. They are very attentive, very receptive.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7860, firstname.lastname@example.org