Located at the Kitsap Conservation District (CD) office, the GRACE Garden Project houses on-site demonstrations of conservation methods, low-flow irrigation design, and season extension techniques, and offers workshops and public outreach targeting urban audiences. The GRACE Garden provides fresh vegetables for the Central Kitsap Food Bank and restorative justice and community service opportunities for criminal offenders from the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW).
The success of the project far surpassed all initial benchmarks for production conservation, educational, and community impacts. In the first year, the GRACE Garden donated 12,055 pounds of fresh produce to four local food banks, grew 8,800 pounds of pumpkins, and continues to deliver an average of 300 pounds of fresh greens, squash and potatoes weekly. The MCCCW Community Work Crew completed fall and winter plantings of kale, chard, broccoli and salad greens, and work continues on a reduced schedule until spring, when the project ramps up for summer production.
Fourteen container gardening workshops taught food bank clients, EBT/SNAP Ed recipients and community members how to grow salad greens, herbs and fall vegetables for their families. Community education and outreach activities highlighted project conservation practices including drip irrigation, water conservation, weed suppression, and soil testing for nutrient management.
Equally as impressive as progress toward project conservation goals, the impact of the GRACE Project on the women from MCCCW exceeded all expectations. They gained knowledge and skill in propagation, cultivation and harvesting fresh produce, in the process gaining self-worth, confidence, and a desire to continue growing food and working in natural resource conservation. Several women plan to pursue degrees in environmental studies upon release from custody.
All the women working in the garden over the course of the grant maintain they learned and continue to learn as part of the GRACE Garden Project – and in many cases acknowledge what they gained had less to do with growing zucchini and everything to do with giving back to their community. Most recently, the work crew highlighted their work and accomplishments in the garden by harvesting and donating 300 pounds of pumpkins to MCCCW for a Halloween activity for inmates and their families.
The GRACE Project garnered notice on multiple fronts, including a visit from U. S. Representative Derek Kilmer, newspaper articles, a notable feature in the Sunday Seattle Times, and a special Community Service Award from the Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance. The project joined the Washington State Department of Corrections Sustainability in Prisons Project, with grant activities highlighted statewide in a blog and on social media. Collaboration with Kitsap County Food Bank Coalition, Washington State University Kitsap Extension, USDA SNAP Ed, Kitsap Health District, Harvest Kitsap Gleaning Program, Kitsap County Solid Waste, and farmers markets addressed food policy issues. Those community connections amplified project educational outreach and technical assistance activities for urban agriculture and community gardens, which in turn increased access to fresh, healthy food for residents of Kitsap County.
The district has taken a number of steps to ensure continuation and growth of the GRACE Garden Project, including continued funding for the MCCCW Community Service Crew to work in the garden.
In keeping with the district’s motto, “Building partnerships to accomplish more,” relationships established during the GRACE Project activities resulted in receiving an AmeriCorps Volunteer for a Community Garden/Conservation Specialist to coordinate the program for the 2019 growing season and beyond. Costing the district $6,000 annually, this 0.8 FTE position contributes 1,700 hours (0.5 FTE GRACE Project/0.3 FTE other conservation activities) in exchange for a monthly stipend, educational benefit and health insurance provided by partner agency Kitsap Community Resources.
A significant portion of the matching funds contributed to this project paid for four 10,000-gallon water cisterns and a drip irrigation system to ensure sufficient water for the garden. Sales of select items will pay for project supplies (seed, soil amendments, other materials). Generating $1,780 this first year, these enterprises include plant starts sold at the KCD Annual Spring Tree Sale; restaurant wholesale accounts; and a U-Pick Pumpkin Patch. Anticipated to increase over time, all income-generating activities fill unmet or underserved niche markets, avoiding competition with local farmers who direct market/wholesale agricultural products.