Community Garden Engages Homeless Patrons and Non-Profit Neighbors
by Donna Feddern, Library Manager

The Olympia Timberland Library was approached by local non-profit organization, Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB) about building 3 raised-bed food gardens on library grounds. GRuB’s mission includes bringing people together around agriculture and partnering with people with low-incomes. We were excited by the opportunity to create a garden because we have had so much interest in our food-related programs. It also supports a service priority in our Strategic Plan:

            Promote the Library as Community Gathering Place

            Strengthen resources, services, and events that promote community interaction.

Having a garden ties in well with Olympia’s strong urban farming scene. Our local farmer’s market recently celebrated its 40-year anniversary, and the city has loosened up codes having to do with growing and selling produce. A 2014 Gallup poll even recognized Olympia as leading the nation in access to affordable produce. Having an interactive, demonstration garden seemed like a great way to tie into this community interest.

GRuB staff and volunteers installed the raised beds in April.  Supplies were paid for by the Friends of the Olympia Timberland Library. Next, we had a planting event which drew patrons and neighbors, including residents of the nearby homeless shelter and staff from the “Commons at Fertile Ground”  a neighborhood green space that teaches urban sustainability. We had not built strong relationships with either of these neighbors before. Now, shelter residents and volunteers from Fertile Ground help with daily watering and weeding, and we have conversations with the neighbors who stop by when they see us out tending the garden. Meeting so many new people has been the most rewarding part of this project.

We began to harvest the food in May, donating it to “Food Not Bombs,” a group that serves meals in front of the library on Saturdays. Any food not used by this group was donated to the local food bank, which welcomes fresh vegetables from private gardens.

We have also established a Food & Garden program series, offering GRuB classes such as companion planting and composting. A program speaker from Thurston County Solid Waste gave a presentation on how to waste less food and coming up next, a local farmer will talk about straw bale gardening.

This project has been an amazing way to partner with local organizations, create a place to learn about gardening, provide food for people with low-income, and meet our neighbors.