Last year, Kimberly Griffith delivered 100 pounds of free fruits and vegetables grown in a community garden near Archie Anderson Park to residents of Longview’s Highlands neighborhood.
This year, she hopes to triple her yield. And she may do just that, after at least a dozen people helped Griffith weed and plow the garden on Saturday to prepare it for planting.
Soon the small plot of land could be bursting with broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, arugula, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, rhubarb and a variety of flowers.
And a donated greenhouse means that the group could tend to some plants year-round.
Griffith, coordinator for the Highlands Community Center, said she started the garden last year after noticing the empty patch of land behind the community center located on 21st Avenue.
“I grew up with a lack of food in my house,” she said. “We fed a lot of kids with this garden last year. … Kids would come and sit in the garden and eat vegetables. Some kids early on learned a lot about the vegetables and how to pick them, and then they were teaching the other kids.”
Elizabeth Stratton, a program manager with Washington State University Extension SNAP-ED, said she got involved with the garden this year as a way to improve access to nutritious food in the Highlands. (SNAP-ED is a federal grant program focused on educating low-income people about how to eat healthy and be active.)
“We hope to engage the Highlands community and get some buy-in from residents to work in the garden,” Stratton said.
A neighborhood garden is a good way to “make the healthy choice the easy choice,” she said, because it is easy for people to stop by and learn about how to grow and cook different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
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They also offer free nutritional and gardening classes at the community center, she said. The next one is a class with a master gardener starting at 4 p.m. Monday at the Highlands Community Center at 292 21st Ave.
The group will likely distribute what they grow at a free produce stand near the garden and donate the rest to local food pantries. Griffith said they’d eventually like to start a “farmer’s exchange” at Archie Anderson Park.
“The Highlands neighborhood wants to do something positive for their community,” volunteer Sue Rutherford said Saturday during a break from pulling weeds. “Sometimes you just got to get in there and help.”
Rutherford, a Longview resident, said she doesn’t live in the Highlands but wanted to help with the garden after registering voters in the neighborhood last fall as part of Lower Columbia Indivisible. (Indivisible is a national grassroots movement that formed to elect progressive leaders.)
“It’s a win-win. You get fresh produce and you can share it with people who might not have access,” she said.
Highlands residents Alma and Jesus Torres stopped by during the gardening event with their 6-year-old daughter, Carmen.
Carmen loves gardening, Alma Torres said, and it helps her speech therapy to socialize with other gardeners. They have their own garden at home, which helps them eat healthy and save money on groceries, she said.
The garden is entirely operated by donations. Those who want to contribute plants, seeds, soils, fertilizer and other materials, or who want to volunteer, can contact the Highlands Community Center at (360) 200-7359.
“You get to know your neighbors, enjoy a hobby and improve nutrition,” Griffith said. “And gardening together can help improve the safety of the neighborhood because you’re getting to know each other. Our logo is ‘friends helping friends.’ ”