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Community gardens and urban agriculture help increase the fresh food

By Shannon St. Hilaire

Community gardens bring a group of people together around the common purpose of growing more food, said Pat Munts, small farms acreage coordinator for the Washington State University Spokane County Extension and Spokane Conservation District.

She works with small farmers and small-acreage owners, as well as with community gardens and urban agriculture. She facilitates groups interested in starting community gardens, providing resources and connections.

Pat Munts, WSU Spokane County Extension
Pat Munts pulls weed from the demonstration garden bed near her office.

“Food connects us all.  It doesn’t matter where it is produced,” Pat said.

Next to the city, churches are the most active groups she facilitates.

“They are a natural group of people with a mission, often a chunk of ground and good insurance.  So it’s easy for them to pull together,” she said.  “They have to go through the same process for setting up any garden.”

Pat noted that not every church is ready for a garden.

“A congregation has to look at its needs.  A garden may not fit.  If a congregation wants to start something, they need to meet.  If it’s a small congregation, they can go down the street, make it an ecumenical thing,” Pat suggested.

She pulls people together, talks about what they need, what their expectations are and who has skills to contribute.

There is a role for everyone in the community—bookkeeping, fund raising, hanging signs, doing display tables, telling friends and more, Pat pointed out.

“There’s work to do for someone who can’t bend down to plant a seed.  The project crosses all ages, so it’s perfect for churches,” she said. “While some churches have a hard time reaching out to communities around them, this project could help them do that.”

Starting community gardens has worked for many area churches, including Millwood Presbyterian Church, Beautiful Savior Lutheran, All Saints Lutheran and Holy Trinity Episcopal.

It depends on the pastor, the governing body and the members reaching out to their community. Building a garden and expecting people to come doesn’t work, she said.  The community must be built first so everyone joins in.

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church on the South Hill voted last spring to begin a garden.  Their effort has involved the entire congregation—from preschoolers to elders, plus neighbors who want to join in the effort.

Half of the beds are devoted to Plant a Row for the Hungry, while the rest are for private use.

They grow corn, potatoes, squash and more.  They have a building that is used for storage and classroom space.

“Down the road, the building may play a broader role in the greater community garden system,” Pat said, adding that she uses it to store extra wheelbarrows. She hopes that by making the building available to others, it will be another way for the community gardens in the area to share resources with each other.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Central has also been expanding and developing its own community garden.

“Because it is a mobile and eclectic congregation, it has been a challenge for them,” she said.

Pat helps them build boxes for the raised beds and works with the community to increase interest and teach skills. They use some of the boxes to grow herbs and vegetables for the Wednesday night Dinner Table, a weekly free meal.

Their goal is to provide a safe place to grow food and build community.

People who have health issues or other struggles can benefit from having a patch of earth to cultivate and growing their own food on it, she added.

“It’s good for their self-esteem and it calms them. It’s something they can control,” she said.

In addition to the church, community gardens are now an established part of the city, said Pat, who meets regularly with those in charge of the land to make sure it is used as it was intended.

She is excited about the Spokane Parks Board’s recent vote to allow community gardens in city parks. She is helping to develop two gardens in the parks to be finished this year, and is assessing locations for more gardens.

“It is important for people to have access to land anywhere in the city,” she said.

In her continuing effort to connect gardeners, Pat is working with the county to create a map of all the community gardens in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Cheney, Airway Heights and Deer Park.

She currently has 10 to 12 gardens mapped in Spokane and several more in the surrounding area.  Her list keeps growing. She hopes that anyone wanting to become involved with a community garden will be able to access the map.

She occasionally visits groups she has worked with in the past.

Having been in the field since 1977, “there isn’t much I haven’t dealt with,” she said. “It’s a networking connection.”

Pat said she lets the gardens belong to their people, while remaining in contact to give advice:  “I don’t own any project.  I want the community to own it.  It’s theirs and when they take it, it stays theirs.”

In addition to maintaining past relationships, she has goals for the future.

“I would like to see a community kitchen system to teach people to can food, preserve food and cook a meal,” she continued.

She hopes churches will be involved in this effort because they often have kitchens that have passed health department certification and they have the space to accommodate a group. They are centrally located, so people could walk to the classes.

“There’s no reason for people to go hungry.  There is plenty of quality food in this region and people should have access to it,” Pat asserted.

Many gardens give their produce to food banks.

Pat finds that people who have benefited from food banks in the past are likely to give to them when they have excess.

“This community is creative, dedicated and giving.  Being here as long as I have, I’ve seen it change, but those values are always there and I think they always will be,” she said. “Community gardens help keep those values going.”

For information, call 477-2123 or email

Spokane Community Gardens schedules
a self-guided tour of nine gardens

A self-guided tour of nine gardens, a harvest celebration, a swap meet and a collection of produce and canned goods for Second Harvest are part of the Fall 2012 Community Garden Tour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22.

The event of Spokane Community Gardens is for people interested in community gardens, urban farms and food security, said Dennis Anderson, organizer. 

Gardeners will tell about how their gardens operate.

Gardens open for the tour are:

• Commons Community Garden at 33rd and Lamonte will host the garden swap meet of garden tools and equipment.  It will also include a workshop by Master Gardeners on composting.

• Northeast Community Center Garden at Liberty and Lacey Sts. in Hillyard has 48 garden plots with many gardeners from Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia.

• Hifumi En Community Garden, 926 E. 8th Ave., is a project building community among residents of an apartment complex.

• Emmanuel Lutheran Church Garden, 314 S. Spruce, Browne’s Addition, is an outreach to the neighborhood.  They have converted the lawn to a garden to be a source of food for neighbors.

• Twin Owls Community Garden, 6912 E. Random Pt. Ln., Brown’s Mountain, is a communal garden where gardeners share the work and the produce.

• St. Margaret’s Shelter Garden, 2702 S. Oak St., Vinegar Flats, is a project of staff and residents at the shelter, growing produce sold at farmers’ markets and teaching residents to grow their own food.

• The Fairview and Hemlock Community Garden in Northeast Spokane includes diverse ages, families and individuals.

• Riverview Farms, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 1832 W. Dean, West Central Spokane, is a new project envisioning neighborhood community gardening and a public market.  It is run by Project HOPE and the Faith and Environment Network.

• The Earth Turners garden is at Cedar and Water Ave. in Peaceful Valley.

For information, call 747-5562 or email