Keeping Food Local: Community Gardening in Renton

This is the first post in a series on eating locally in Renton.

The video I posted the other day about “Carrots, Pigs, and $3 Million Dollars” got me thinking about local food. Locally grown food has so many advantages over the same kinds food grown far away. Long travel time causes food to lose flavor and nutrients. Shipping food from distant places adds to foods’ cost and carbon footprint. Buying food grown locally means supporting farmers who will in turn support your local economy.

Eating locally also means eating seasonally. Those fresh berries in the grocery store in January are expensive because they are not in season in Renton. January berries are in season where January is summer, likely south of the equator.

Home grown food is delightful on so many levels. A well tended vegetable garden is like an edible jungle. I love roaming about through vines winding up stalks, stepping carefully to avoid crushing tender underbrush, while prowling for food. Once you know the enchanting flavor of a freshly-picked, juicy, sun-warmed, vine-ripened tomato, out of season grocery store tomatoes never seem worth your money again.

To a child, gardening is magical. In my childhood backyard, there was always space to garden. I remember one year my mother charged me with weeding a gladiolus bed. This prolific flower had given birth to thousands of tiny bulblets that had no home. She gave me a small plot of earth behind the compost pile to dig in and plant the baby bulbs. It was fun for a day or two. Then summer stole my attention, and I forgot about the possibility of flowers. A couple of months later, I saw some ruffly, orange flowers peeking out behind the compost pile. There, in my neglected garden, was a tall, stately stalk of gladiolus flowers. Those flowers served to remind me that a seed, or bulb, may not look like much, but given time it will bear fruit. A seed is a promise of good things to come.

As an adult, the joys of gardening are harder to come by. Along with almost two-thirds of the American population, we live in multi-family housing. Apartment living comes without backyards, as a general rule. How can apartment dwellers grow their own food?

That’s where community gardens come in. Last year I had two plots at Sunset Community Garden in the Sunset Neighborhood in Renton. A co-operative effort between Sunset Neighborhood Association and Calvary Baptist Church, Sunset Community Garden is open to the public. I rented two garden spaces for $15 each for the year. This covered soil amendments and water. We were also expected to participate in scheduled work days around the garden.

My two garden plots equaled 40 square feet in sum. The first veggies planted were replaced as they completed their production. In this way I planted over forty different kinds of vegetables over the growing season. During the peak of summer I was harvesting between 5 and 10 POUNDS of produce a week! I grew several varieties of kale, beets, tomatoes, onions, green beans, carrots, radishes, baby greens, herbs, fennel, peas, spinach, Swiss chard, and others. During the hour a week I spent tending my beds, I conversed with newly-met neighbors, fellow gardeners, and passersby.

Other community gardens exist around Renton. They are popular, and spaces fill quickly each year. If you are interested in being a part of the community at Sunset Community Garden, registration begins in February 15th.

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