Outward bound

Let them eat produce

If indeed April showers bring May flowers, this year's endless spring downpour also should produce a bumper crop of vegetables come summertime. That makes Lee Harper's job that much easier.

Harper runs the Fremont Public Association's Lettuce Link program, which has supplied fresh organic produce to some 30 Seattle food banks since 1988. The summer of 2001 was a bumper year for Lettuce Link, which donated over 21,000 pounds of produce grown by backyard gardeners and Seattle P-Patches (the "P" stands for the Picardo garden located north of Dahl field in Northeast Seattle, the first designated "P-Patch").

Lettuce Link also supplies seeds to food bank patrons and teaches them about sustainable gardening practices. "I go to food banks with a card table and a big box of seeds and hand them out to people who come in," Harper says. "I only give out seeds that are ready to plant; they can take what they want." The seeds—donated by local stores—are hand-packaged and translated into five different languages (Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, Cambodian, and Russian) and labeled with pictures of the mature plants, so everyone knows exactly what they're growing. Sometimes people take a few packages; sometimes they take two of everything. Root crops, such as potatoes and beets, are in high demand; green onions are the most popular because they're easy to grow and don't take up much space in a garden.

Lettuce Link is also part of a coalition of groups involved with the Marra Farm in South Park, a four-acre plot named for the Italian family whose crops were sold at the Pike Place Market for decades. Sold to King County, the land is now a thriving community farm. The coalition's mission is to build a modern urban farm using sustainable gardening practices; gardening and cooking classes are also offered, since growing produce in this area is very different from elsewhere, Harper points out.

All the produce grown on the 8,000 square feet of Marra Farm—planted, watered, and harvested entirely by volunteer help—is given away. But there's always a need for more. Lettuce Link encourages backyard gardeners to donate their extra produce, touching on the "plant an extra row" theme.

Donating produce gets easier this year with a new central drop-off point: Interbay P-Patch will take produce donations on Tuesdays, 5:30-7:30 p.m., from June 4 to mid-October.

"I garden in 100 square feet and in containers in my driveway, and I donated 200 pounds of food throughout the year," Harper says, proving that it doesn't take a lot of space to grow a lot of food.

More information: www.fremontpublic.org/client/food.html.

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