August 2022 Update: Cedar Springs Community Church, as well as its food pantry and community garden, relocated to a new campus. See the address at the end of the article.
The Harvest House stand is just like any other produce stand: it’s shaded under a tent at the side of a gravel road. Neatly arranged rows of fruits and vegetables are advertised by a large white sign painted with the words “Organic Produce.”
The only difference between this stand and any other produce stand: everything is free.
The stand is just a snapshot of the three years of work that went into making the Harvest House garden what it is today: a thriving epicenter that feeds the hungry and brings people together.
“That’s the goal of Harvest House: not just to meet needs but to build a stronger community,” director Justin Henderson explains.
Out of Africa
Five years ago, Pastor Chris Brannon of Cedar Springs Community Church went to Africa to teach people how to garden during droughts. As soon as he arrived back in Graham, he told Justin, “We need to start a garden.”
Justin was skeptical at first. The first year, the garden was a small patch of corn and zucchini. But seeing the small crop come to life convinced Justin that the garden had potential.
“That [experience] created a whole sense of ‘Wow, we could be part of a revolution of how we view food and access to food,’” he explained.
Justin and other volunteers began making discoveries about gardening and began exchanging ideas. They decided to try hügulkultur (hoo-gul-culture)—a German word meaning “hill culture.” The pyramid-like mounds are beds of decaying wood chips covered in soil and outlined by stones. The goal is to water as little as possible, fertilize plants as the wood chips compost, and keep the soil warm.
Africa has inspired the garden in another way: keyhole gardens. Stationed next to the greenhouse, these raised garden designs were developed in Africa and, like hügulkultur, hold water well. The community garden as a whole is unique, and most importantly, it’s sustainable.
Pastor Brannon’s original vision is slowly taking shape: lines of fruit trees grow at the borders of the garden. Patches of squash grow alongside green bean and tomato vines. Raised beds of chard, lettuce, and onions flourish in composting soil. There are flowers too—everything from effulgent dahlias to towering sunflowers.
“The goal is to help create an environment that can educate and inspire and also produce a lot of fresh produce to distribute to the community,” Justin said.
This summer’s harvest culminated in a community garden party that featured tasty garden hors d’oeuvres. People from all walks of life gathered to celebrate a successful year of gardening.
Harvest Kids is one program that seeks to educate and inspire through the community garden. A group of about 80 children meet from March through the summertime to cultivate their green thumbs.
Aramé Bailey is not only the volunteer coordinator but also oversees the Harvest Kids program. “We’re teaching these kids how to grow their own food—to get excited about gardening—so that in their future they might not have to go hungry,” she explained.
The program includes classes on everything from making salads to preserving produce. The kids also get to spend time in the garden weeding, starting seeds, and harvesting produce. The worms and bugs are just a bonus.
The kids were excited to learn about things like where potatoes came from. Some thought their parents “just bought it at the store,” Aramé explained. “It was fun to be able to see them learning something and laughing in the garden and just enjoying being here.”
Sharing the Harvest
The weekly Saturday produce stand combines Harvest House’s efforts with those of local community members. Farmers drop off surplus from their harvests, and gardeners share their own produce. Some produce also comes from the gleaning efforts of the Emergency Food Network and Harvest Pierce County.
Community members from all backgrounds can come and take produce or donate from their gardens.
“[The stand] by itself is creating a sense that we’re a community—we can share produce and share ideas,” Justin explained. “That alleviates the stigma that we only serve the poor. We’re actually for the whole community, and if we all share what we have, then we can ensure our goal that no person goes hungry.”
It turns out that Pastor Brannon’s vision was just what the community needed.
As the garden grows, so do its needs. It’s gradually getting closer to reaching what Justin describes as a food forest—a garden that has its own ecosystem, its own wildlife, and an abundance of plants.
Justin describes the garden as a collaborative effort. Wood chips are donated through Harvest Pierce County. Local grants provided the financial backing for the shed. The Home Depot donated materials for the greenhouse. And Mother Earth Farm delivers produce every week during the summer.
“It’s important to us that we’re not doing this solo; that Harvest House doesn’t get all of the credit,” Justin said.
In an effort to continue growing, Harvest House is always looking for more volunteers, financial donations, and items like perennial plantings and seeds. Currently, volunteers are needed to pick tomatoes.
Potential volunteers can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are also accepted during business hours at the Church at Cedar Springs office. Look for bins throughout the community stamped with the Harvest House logo.
This article was updated in August 2022. Cedar Springs Community Church relocated to a new campus at 25713 70th Ave E, Graham, WA 98338. The Harvest House Food Pantry and the new community garden operates next to their new church building.
The Harvest House would like to give special thanks to Harvest Pierce County, Mother Earth Farm, the Emergency Food Network, United Way, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, the Pierce Conservation District, and the Home Depot for their support and donations.
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