During these snowy winter months, sun and fresh produce may seem sparse. The Episcopal Church of Resurrection, located in Spokane Valley, works to combat bleak days by using their green thumbs to bring sunshine to those in the Spokane community.
Dr. Adam Bartholomew, an adjunct religious studies instructor at Gonzaga, along with Pat Munts, small farms and urban agriculture coordinator at Washington State University Extension, and members of the church contribute to a community garden in Spokane Valley. The food that is grown is given to food banks including Second Harvest, Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank and Northwest Harvest.
“The parish has had this land for decades,” Munts said. “I think what inspired people first was, ‘We have this land sitting here doing nothing, can we grow something on it either for ourselves or for donation to the food bank?’ and I think that’s what originally got [the garden] started.”
According to Munts, the garden was started in spring 2013, when she, Bartholomew and other parishioners built 48 boxes, each 4-by-12 feet, to grow various vegetables that are donated to food banks. In that first year, they produced several thousand pounds of food for food banks.
Munts said foods that are grown in the garden include peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, watermelons, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and “just about every vegetable you can imagine.”
The boxes are filled with compost that was donated to the garden by Barr-Tech.
“They take all of the clean green stuff from the waste energy plants and the transfer stations and take it out to Fish Lake, and then compost it out there and sell it,” Munts said.
However, Munts said the community garden did not stop there and that they started looking at an old pear and apple orchard of approximately 24 trees that has been around since the 1940s.
“I think there are three or four pear trees and the rest are various kinds of apples,” Bartholomew said. “It’s just a beautiful bit of nature in the middle of all this suburban development, and I just enjoy sometimes walking around it and enjoying the field, enjoying the grasses and when the fruit’s coming in. It’s really quite wonderful.”
After major pruning, cleaning the trees, bringing water to them and taking care of insect issues, Munts said the orchard became a success.
“[The orchard] was so successful last year that we pulled 8,000 pounds of apples off of those trees,” she said.
Munts added that this year, around 6,000 pounds of apples were donated to Northwest Harvest.
“The fact that we’re saving an old, old orchard and making it productive again, I mean it’s such a history that we’re preserving. It’s really kind of a fun thing to work on,” Munts said.
There is a current partnership, Munts said, with the Edible Tree Project and the community garden, who help pick the apples in the orchard as well as have pruning workshops where people are taught how to care for trees.
Besides picking apples from the orchards, Munts said cider is made using a press owned by a parish member, which is done in October. Last fall, around 35 gallons of cider were pressed.
According to Munts, those interested in contributing to the garden can fill out a box registration if they live close to it, help with cleanup in early April and cut apple branches due to them being a fire hazard.
“If people are really interested in a garden box, they can have one,” Bartholomew said. “We’d reserve one for Gonzaga students.”
The objective, Bartholomew said, is “to be sharing what we have with the community,” which extends to feeding people and those who enjoy gardening.
There will be a workshop held on March 10 at the church 15319 E 8th Ave, Spokane Valley, WA 99037, and people can sign up through the Edible Tree Project.
“If there’s a particular group of people who want to work specifically with this [the garden], then we certainly would be entertained having a group come out on a planned basis to help us do some maintenance work,” Munts said. “We certainly could use some younger backs and reaches to get some things done.”
Over 40 people contribute the community garden, along with 30 to 40 people from Edible Tree Project who help with pruning, picking and holding workshops. Five to six people are from outside the parish community.
“It’s preserving an old orchard and using it well, it’s feeding the poor through it and it’s educating people about raising food and taking care of trees, so it’s an educational opportunity,” Bartholomew said.
Matthew Kincanon is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @MatthewKincanon.