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Gardens create community, put food on tables of poor

By Elise Peterson

Running through her grandmother’s tomato patch as a four-year-old, Pat Munts fell in love with gardening.


Group plants community garden.

The experience instilled a life-long desire to be outdoors. 

“I love dirt,” she said.

“When I pull a weed and throw it in the garbage, it stays there.  It doesn’t argue with me or send me bills.  It might send out a few cousins, but I can pull those later,” she added. 
Group plants community garden.

Pat is active in the Spokane gardening community, working four days a week at South Hill’s Tower Perennial Gardens, writing a monthly column for the Spokesman Review’s Home and Garden section, and heading Plant-a-Row for the Hungry, the holistic wing of the Garden Writers’ Association.   

Second Harvest recently appointed her coordinator of Spokane Community Gardens, her newest undertaking.

“Community gardening is poised to take off here,” Pat said.  “Many people in the urban areas recognize that having a plot to garden would be helpful.” 

Spokane Community Gardens began in the 1990s under the leadership of Lori Steiner.  Over the next decade, volunteers planted four-by-eight-foot raised vegetable beds in backyards of low-income families. 

In addition to providing food, community gardens give struggling families a sense of ownership and pride in maintaining self-sustenance, Pat said. 

Second Harvest Inland Northwest acquired the organization in 2002.  Since then, the group donated about 75 garden beds to 37 families—providing seeds and matching them with volunteer mentors—and joined with three local organizations to create larger gardens. 

The smaller gardens grow vegetables needed to provide healthful foods for individual families while larger plots provide food to other families through Second Harvest. 

Pat is recruiting volunteers to mentor families with Community Gardens’ backyard plots.

“I would like to see a network of people helping people who want to learn how to grow food,” she said. 

Her passion for reaching others stems from her desire to build tighter communities. 

A Spokane resident for 28 years, Pat stayed through the city’s recent economic hardship.  Her husband lost his job at the Bureau of Mines when it closed and a travel agency laid Pat off after the 9/11 attacks. 

“We didn’t have any reason to stay, but we chose to stay because of the sense of community,” she said.

With nearly 14 percent of Spokane’s 197,400 residents falling below the federal poverty level, Pat seeks to reach these people through both Plant-a-Row for the Hungry and Spokane Community Gardens.

For her, responsibility to “look after each other” builds community.

In addition to providing garden beds, Community Gardens connects families to the Spokane Master Gardeners Association, which provides garden clinics and educational materials to help people grow their gardens organically.

Typical crops include tomatoes, beans, corn, peppers, potatoes, peas, radishes, greens of all kinds, pumpkins, squash, onions and zucchini.

Vegetables and meat are typically the most expensive food items at the store, Pat said, so the ability to grow their own vegetables “helps families significantly reduce their grocery budgets.”

Besides, Pat added, children love gardens, as she did as a child and still does as an adult.

In addition to supporting individual gardens, the program encourages those involved with the organization-maintained gardens, such as Avista Employees’ Community Garden.  Overseeing that garden are Avista’s Green Thumbs and limited-income program specialist Tom Kliewer.

“That our garden exists says something good,” Tom said as he paused from pulling weeds in the 48-bed plot behind Avista’s headquarters on Mission Street.

A sign by the garden reads, “Avista Employees’ Community Garden: Growing Ties to the Community.” 

The garden originally donated its vegetables to Second Harvest, but now works directly with Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

Avista Garden also works with Pat in Plant-a-Row for the Hungry, which encourages local farmers and private gardeners to donate excess harvest or intentionally to plant one extra row for distribution at Spokane food banks.

“If each of us takes just a little bit of our own over-abundance and shares it with a few others, we would actually build a stronger community,” Pat said. 

The Urban Forestry Program donated four young plum trees at the Avista garden’s front gate.  Avista contributed a garden shed, which the Green Thumbs painted a muted green with a bright red door. 

Eagle Scout Greg Braybeck made picnic benches volunteers use on sunny days.  Avista retiree Bob Boyd built birdhouses hanging from various trees. 
Tom wants volunteers to feel inspired to create their own community garden as they become involved with Avista Garden and the surrounding community. 

Harvest day is popular for volunteers because that’s when they gather the produce and deliver it to the food bank or, this year, the restaurant. 

“I feel I’m facilitating fulfillment of a basic need,” Tom said.    

Eventually, Tom wants to involve more of the community.  He hopes to see more local senior citizens garden and have children show up to learn about gardening from volunteers. 

Passing on gardening knowledge is also one of Pat’s goals.

She remains committed to helping others discover that love while creating self-sufficient sources of income and strengthening their ties to each other and the greater Spokane community. 

“By building healthy bodies, we help build healthy minds and healthy communities.  We don’t have to be rich to grow veggies.”

For information, call 534-6678.

Elise Peterson wrote this story for The Fig Tree as an assignment in a Whitworth College public relations class