IN APRIL 2008, Anne Schneider, Ruth Merryman and 11 other women formed a philanthropic group called a giving circle.
The premise: each member of the circle would donate $1,000 a year for three years.
Each year, they would research local social service and nonprofit agencies, then vote on the best place to invest their combined funds to benefit the community.
At the first meeting, when the members discussed what changes they would like to see in the community, Rachel Gaspers spoke up, Her suggestion: better food in the school cafeterias.
When asked “How do you know?”, Gaspers replied, “I just know.”
Gaspers was ahead of her time: Three years ago, healthy food in local school cafeterias wasn’t on the radar, much less the students’ wish lists, Schneider said.
This year, members of the giving circle, called Women Who Care, helped support the better-breakfast pilot program at Grant Street School.
On Saturday, the circle members gathered to dispense the main part of their third and final gift, to start an educational community garden where children, their parents and grandparents can learn about growing and eating fresh, local food.
“Three years later, they want better food in the school cafeteria,” Schneider said. “Everything came full circle for Rachel.”
Schneider told the story about the giving circle’s first meeting at its final event: the presentation of a check for $10,500 last Saturday to Malcolm Dorn for the Chimacum Corner Community Garden on property adjacent to the Chimacum Farmers Market and Chimacum Corner Farmstand.
The funds will provide money to build a greenhouse and raised beds for culinary and perennial herbs framing a central gathering space.
“We want to create an outdoor learning center around agriculture,” Dorn said.
The garden is the third part of a transformation of the corner by Dorn and business partners Phil Vogelsang and Katy McCoy.
Last spring, they leased the property from Beverly Smith and Nanette and Steve Ardal and moved the Chimacum Farmers Market from the grange to provide better visibility, parking and access.
Then, they added the Chimacum Corner Farmstand to offer “food from here” — locally grown produce, meat and dairy products — year-round.
“We want to see a thriving agricultural economy in the county,” Dorn said, “and we’re seeing it coming.”
Using the rest of the property for a garden and greenhouse was only a germ of an idea, Dorn said.
Then, last summer, he was out sailing with Carol Gough, a giving circle member, and told her about his future plans. She said, “You should contact the giving circle,” and he did.
“It might have been years before we got around to it,” Dorn said. “This gave us the resources.”
Dorn, who is overseeing the project, will break ground this month for the greenhouse and order materials to build four raised beds, 4 feet by 15 feet each, for culinary plants and herbs.
Gift pays manager’s salary
The gift also pays the salary of a garden manager, Wendie Dyson, who is contacting groups in the community about using the space for classes ranging from plant science to painting.
So far, she’s had interest from Chimacum Schools’ Pi program, which wants to use the garden as an outdoor classroom; the Tri-Area Community Center; and the Chimacum Teen Center, among others.
“I was at the Coffee House for the Deaf, and they were interested in coming down here ,” Dyson said. “I talked to half a dozen groups, and every one had an idea for a class.”
The Olympic Community Action Programs’ pea-patch gardeners are interested in using the greenhouse to start plants, Dyson said, noting that pea patchers designate a share of their crop for the Tri-Area Food Bank.
Classes on landscape design, container gardens, beekeeping and cooking with culinary herbs are all possibilities, she said.
The 20-foot-by-24-foot greenhouse will be big enough for classes out of the weather, Dorn said.
It and the raised beds will frame a central open space that can accommodate 100 people for community gatherings.
“It’s literally going to blossom in myriads of ways,” Dyson said.
Dorn thanked Smith and the Ardals for use of the space for the garden area, Sarah Fairbank and Barb Dyer for advice on layout and design, and Kris Meyer for her support.
Tim at Ericsen Excavating donated cedar to make the raised beds, Dorn said, and Henery’s Garden Center is providing the plants at a discount. Dick Schneider, Anne’s spouse, is donating plant starts from his greenhouses.
‘A lot to offer’
“We as a community have a lot to offer each other,” Dorn said. “By participating, by communicating, we strengthen the whole mix.”
The kickoff event is a community planting day April 30 starting at 1:30 p.m.
Dyson said she hopes people will come and help put in plants. Also needed are donations of seeds.
For last Saturday’s event, chef Arran Stark prepared refreshments using local food: chard- and onion-stuffed pastry, smoked salmon with dill crostini, beet-pickled deviled eggs and local pork and beef skewers.
Guests included Dick Bergeron, president of the Chimacum Grange; Whitney Meissner, principal of Chimacum High School; J.J. Jenkins, manager of the Tri-Area Community Center; and Aislin Germaine, assistant manager.
Giving circle members present included Teresa Goldsmith, Marilyn Staples and Teri McComas. McComas said being in the giving circle opened a new way of looking at charitable giving by finding ways to fund sustainable programs that are systemic or get to the root of a problem.
Gave $13,000 in first year
The first year, the group gave $13,000 to the Visiting Nurses program of the Jefferson County Public Heath Department to fund an assessment of community needs, with the goal of providing services to children from birth through high school.
The second year, they gave to the Jumping Mouse Children’s Center, which provides mental health play therapy for children.
Giving circle members not only researched agencies, but visited them. In the process, they became more aware of the depth of needs in the community.
“I though I knew all the social services that existed, but I didn’t,” Merryman said.
Debbi Steele said she liked the idea of pooling money to give a more meaningful gift.
Goldsmith said that when she was invited to join the circle, she thought they would get together, vote and be done.
Instead, they carefully evaluated each application and reached a unanimous decision as to the one that best fit their goals.
“It has been a growth experience,” said Mary Ann Verneuil, a circle member.
Merryman echoed the sentiments of many members when she said she’s glad it’s over but that it was great.
Dorn said it was an honor to be the recipient of the group’s last gift.
‘Ending is . . . beginning’
“We’re glad that our ending is your beginning,” Schneider said.
The Chimacum Farmers’ Market opens Sunday, May 15, and continues Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through October.
The Chimacum Corner Farmstand is open year-round Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Both are at the intersection of Rhody Drive (state Highway 19) and Chimacum Road.
For more information, phone 360-732-0107 or visit www.chimacumcorner.com.
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 email@example.com.