JENNIFER JACKSON'S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Gardeners spring for food bank greens
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Jennifer Jackson/for Peninsula Daily News
Ellen Sabina is leading the effort to create a food bank garden at Mountain View Commons, formerly an elementary school in Port Townsend.

A GOOD TOMATO is hard to find.

It's true in the dead of winter, but even in the heat of summer, it's hard for Port Townsend Food Bank volunteers to get ripe tomatoes or crunchy lettuce for their shelves.

Next summer, tomatoes will be ripening right outside the food bank door.

On Monday, the start of the darkest two weeks of the year, work began on a vegetable garden at Mountain View Commons, where the Port Townsend Food Bank is located.

Funded by a grant from the Jefferson County Master Gardeners Foundation, the project includes a hoop-house-style greenhouse for growing tomatoes and a seed germination box for salad greens.

“The idea is to provide some fresh produce and plant starts for food bank clientele and to empower people to grow their own food,” said Ellen Sabina, a volunteer who is leading the project.

Idea sprouts

Sabina, a former AmeriCorps volunteer, said the idea for the food bank garden had sprouted in several people's minds during the past season.

One was Dana Guber, a local food advocate who wrote the original grant.

Guber had planned to locate the garden at another site but when she had to leave town left the field to others.

So Sabrina and Judith Alexander of Local 20/20, along with grant writer Lys Burden and Cary Peterson, coordinator of the Whidbey Island Good Cheer food bank garden, scoped out the Mountain View campus.

The spot they found, outside the former school cafeteria in the lower level of the gym, had previously been a garden plot but had gone to seed.

“It seems like the perfect place,” Sabina said. “All the components of the community are here.”

The plot, 36 feet by 24 feet, was already fenced and has a compost bin, a worm bin, a potting table and two rain barrels.

It is adjacent to a paved patio with picnic tables.

Last summer, Sabina and Alexander brought in containers, plant starts and potting soil and invited food bank customers to make a container garden, a way for people who live in small quarters to grow food.

Garden organizers also took a survey of food bank regulars asking if they were interested and willing to help in the food bank garden.

The result: a list of 20 people who want to lend a hand.

“A lot of people were pretty enthusiastic about it,” Sabina said.

Sabina, whose name reflects roots in the Canary Islands, grew up lobster fishing and farming in the mid-coastal Maine town of Damariscotta.

She worked on lobster boats in the summer during high school, she said, mainly stuffing bait bags with herring and alewives.

She attended Bates College, a liberal arts college in Maine, writing a thesis on the history of women in lobster fishing.

She also worked on farms as an intern.

Coming to Port Townsend a year ago with AmeriCorps, she managed the Pea Patch, a community garden that dedicated one section to raising food for the Tri-Area Food Bank.

Wanting to stay in Jefferson County after her term was up, Sabina landed several part-time jobs, including working at the Chimacum Corner Farm Store and Finnriver Farm & Cidery's tasting room.

She has just been hired as coordinator of Jefferson LandWorks Collaborative, a network of eight organizations that help farmers and landowners keep rural land economically viable.

Community key

Community is also key to growing a food bank garden.

On Monday afternoon, a crew from Gray Wolf Ranch was scheduled to clear the Mountain View garden plot of weeds and orange-flowered calendula that had taken over.

They also planned to relocate the garden's two apple trees, a “mystery plum” and raspberry plants.

The grant from the Jefferson County Master Gardeners will provide materials to build a 12-foot-by-20-foot hoop house.

John Foss is leading the construction, which will take place on two Saturdays in January.

“We could definitely use some building-minded folks to help us on that project,” Sabina said.

Education components are built-in: Volunteers get hands-on experience on building a hoop house and perhaps are inspired to build their own.

They'll also learn how to build a germination box for starting seeds to get a jump start on the growing season.

Plans call for starting lettuce in mid-February, Sabina said, with continuous harvest through November once the garden gets going.

Focusing on two products — vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh salad greens — keeps the project simple and provides something that people like to eat but normally have a hard time getting, Sabina said.

Organizers also plan to offer plant starts for container gardens in the spring and eventually hold classes on low-budget vegetable gardening.

Sitting on the patio on a gray December day, Sabina is looking ahead to next summer.

She can picture the scene on a sunny Wednesday morning:

Volunteers are harvesting lettuce in the greenhouse or weeding the beds.

Others are working at the tables, washing and packaging salad greens for the food bank.

Children play around the tables, grabbing a piece of lettuce to sample.

Tomato plants have set fruit.

“I also plan to do flowers and herbs,” Sabina said. “We want to make it inviting.”

Master Gardeners

Members of the Master Gardeners are planning to lend a hand as well as financial support, according to Shirley Williams, head of the grants committee.

In the past three years, the Jefferson County Master Gardeners Foundation has awarded $24,750 for community horticultural projects, she said.

The money is raised from plant sales, the annual Secret Garden Tour in June and the Yard and Garden speaker series in January and February.

For more information, visit

To help make the food bank garden blossom next spring, email Sabina at


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email

Last modified: December 06. 2011 5:29PM
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