Family gardening

Clark County Home Grown evolving into community facing nonprofit for income-eligible

Kris Potter is a master composter/recycler, gardening educator, and former coordinator for Clark County Home Grown, a program which placed more than 100 raised bed gardens across the county for use by income eligible families.

Between 2009 and 2011, Potter, using a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology, played matchmaker between 14 host sites, gardening mentors and dozens of people who were interested in learning how to feed their families through organic square-foot gardening. Host sites included churches and schools.

Before Potter became administrator of the program, the gardens were installed on the gardners’ personal property. But the host sites have turned the project outward, creating partners in the community.

For example, said Kris, “Maple Grove Middle School wanted to start a school garden and got a garden installed at no cost through the grant funded program. School kids have first choice (for planting) during the school year, and families adopt it during the rest of the growing season when there is still plenty of time to add to it.

The Ecology grant was for $75,000, and each bed came supplied with season plants, trowel, gloves, kneeling pad and the All-New Square Foot Gardening book. Kris also set up composting on most of the sites. The host sites supplied space and water.

When that grant expired at end of 2010, Clark County Home Grown moved out of the county and is now operated privately by Potter. She partnered in 2011 with Americans Building Communities and the Vancouver Watersheds Alliance with a grant from Walmart to install three community gardens along the Fourth Plain Corridor. Five free CCHG beds were offered. The rest were for lease.

This season leaves Potter with no money. Instead, a seed has been planted for future growth. She started the business Family Gardening to administer the Department of Ecology grant, and is in the process of turning it into a 501(c)3 to keep doing the work that has been started. All the host sites have taken over the beds that were planted there, and they are going to various uses. For example, Vancouver Heights Methodist Church continues to offer the beds to low-income families, while Ridgefield Methodist uses them to fund church projects.

Ideally, the program would be “turn-key,” said Potter, where she sets up the gardens on host sites and the sites take them over and continue to do work for the community with them. This has happened with a number of the sites so far.

At Unitarian Universalist Church of Vancouver, volunteers have recruited five families from Martin Luther King Jr Elementary School, which is “adopted” by the church for such projects. Potter is consulting with the coordinator from the church, but the project is now “out of my hands and into theirs,” she said.

Potter also consults with some other schools on their community gardens and loves it, but, she said “I would like to continue to work with income-qualified households.” Community gardens, she said, are “a way to get fresh organic vegetables, family time and community building. The benefits are especially pertinent to income qualified households.”

Kris Potter is seeking volunteers to help coordinate gardens, mentor families and manage compost on sites. She can be reached at familygardening@gmail.com or 360-695-5627.

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