PORT TOWNSEND — To sum up the past year’s harvest, Kathy Ryan chooses the word “humongous.”
She’s a volunteer grower with the Food Bank Farm & Gardens, an East Jefferson County juggernaut that supplied local food pantries with more than eight tons of produce in 2021.
That’s just the vegetables, fruits and herbs.
Nearly 1,400 fresh eggs were laid last year and put on food bank shelves.
The peak months were August for produce, with 5,221 pounds delivered to food banks around the county, and May for eggs, when 21 dozen went to the pantries.
“I think we’re at kind of a tipping point,” Ryan said in an interview last Friday.
Buzzing around the Quimper Grange Food Bank Garden with her fellow volunteers, she added that expansion is on the horizon.
The Food Bank Farm & Gardens (FBF&G) encompass 10 properties in Port Townsend, Port Hadlock and Chimacum, where growers logged more than 3,600 volunteer hours in the past 12 months.
In 2022, Ryan and crew are embarking on a strategic planning process, in hopes of adding a paid garden manager, office space and an administrative assistant.
More gardens and more freeze-drying of produce are also on the to-do list.
There is yet another step forward for the organization: delivering food directly to people who cannot get to the food bank in Port Townsend.
Last year, FBF&G began working with Juri Jennings, aka The Peddler, to bring produce, by bicycle, from the gardens to the food bank at 1925 Blaine St. A Port Townsend Food Co-op GROW Fund grant, plus community donations, funds those deliveries.
Now a $5,000 gift from an anonymous donor is enabling Jennings to add trips — from the food bank to homes. Working with Jefferson Healthcare, she’s identifying local residents who are unable to drive to the food bank. Then she packs up her bike trailer and pedals to their doors.
“Which is really exciting,” Ryan said.
She also works at the Port Townsend Food Bank and has seen how fresh, local, organic produce — flowers and herbs included — lift clients’ spirits.
“That emotional support is just as important” as the nutrition, Ryan said.
She gets to watch people’s eyes light up when they smell the fragrant herbs that come with their food.
Jennings added she’s now so busy, she’d like to hire another delivery cyclist. She didn’t say when funding and human resources might be available for that. As The Peddler, Jennings also provides grocery deliveries to paying subscribers; she has about 20 on her roster.
While January looks like quiet time in the Quimper Grange garden, things are growing, said FBF&G vice president Mark Paxton. Weed seeds are germinating, in the salad-greens rows and in the perennial herb garden out front. Volunteers Morgana Bernard and Mary Beth Haralovich were busy last Friday weeding the latter.
In the hoop house are the youngest seedlings, which will grow up to be purchases at the FBF&G benefit plant sale this spring, added Quimper gardener Barbara Tusting. The fundraiser is planned for April to avoid conflicting with the Jefferson County Master Gardeners’ sale in May.
To inquire about volunteering with FBF&G, email [email protected] or phone 360-531-4955.
For more about local food banks, including those in Brinnon, Quilcene, Port Townsend and Port Hadlock, see www.jeffersoncountyfoodbanks.org.
“There’s very little being harvested now,” Paxton said of the Quimper Grange garden, although greens such as chard are plentiful. These are cut-and-come-again plants: Cut the larger leaves this week and come back next week for the smaller, even more tender greens that grow in.
As for the whole operation — the gardens, the food-bank deliveries, the plans to add more — Paxton provided a summary.
“What’s going on,” he said, “is we’re propagating things.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]