Written by Elaine Chapman
The Master Gardener Foundation of Benton-Franklin County (MGFBFC) created, funds, and maintains a 2.5 acre Demonstration Garden with 25 individual gardens, including a vegetable garden. Besides showcasing vegetables that can be grown in the Mid-Columbia region and testing different vegetable varieties, MGs donate all produce grown to Tri-City Food Banks. Garden Chair Dennis Fife instituted a succession planting program 5 years ago, increasing yields 3-fold. Fresh produce donations now average approximately 6,000 pounds annually, with 5,500 pounds donated so far this year with one harvest remaining. “We have some fantastic dedicated volunteers in the vegetable garden that make everything possible. We also have a commercial seed company and other commercial businesses that support the garden,” stated Dennis. Rosemary Ruelas, Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Tri-City Food Banks and Site Manager for Kennewick Food Bank, said, “The vegetables that we get from the Master Gardeners provide fresh and nutritious food to our clients. They are so excited when we tell them that this produce is from the Master Gardeners because they often do not have produce that is this fresh and tastes this good available to them. It is important to us as the Volunteer Staff of the Food Bank to be able to serve our clients good, nutritious food and the Master Gardeners play an important part in our ability to do so.”
Additionally, many local citizens participate in MGFBFC’s “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program, using seeds provided by MGFBCF to grow and donate produce from their personal gardens to local food banks. Approximately 3,000 pounds of vegetables are donated annually through this program. MGFBFC also runs a major program called “Build-A-Bed, Feed-A-Family,” which won the prestigious 2020 People’s Choice Project of the Year award bestowed by the local chapter of the Project Management Institute. This program provides a way for low income families to grow their own food now and in the future by establishing community gardens and supplying tools, seeds, education, and continued MG mentoring to clients. In the past eight years, MGFBFC helped develop and sustain 53 food garden projects with space for about 735 gardeners under this program. These gardeners harvest about 74,000 pounds of fresh food annually. It’s no surprise that MGFBFC programs are a major contributor to efforts to reduce food insecurity in the Mid-Columbia region.