Katie is an AmeriCorps member coordinating the Kitsap Harvest Grow-a-Row program as the Grow-a-Row Coordinator VISTA. Kitsap Harvest is based in Bremerton but serves the whole Kitsap County area in Washington. Kitsap Harvest has an established gleaning program that is very fruit heavy and would like to expand and increase vegetable donations by recruiting members of the community to grow in their home gardens, community gardens and local farms. Neighborhoods will have weekly donation stations available to donate their produce which gets sorted at the distribution warehouse then sent out to people and organizations feeding those in need.
Katie Allen is the first year AmeriCorps Harvest VISTA member who is working with Kitsap Harvest to build up their Grow-A-Row services into a self-sustaining program. Grow-A-Row is about fighting food insecurity and food waste in Kitsap County by collecting produce grown from community members in their gardens, and distributing it to community partners that are helping to feed those without easy access to fresh, good food. Groups Kitsap Harvest distributes to include: independent senior housing, transitional housing for homeless youths and veterans, addiction recovery centers, and corner stores in food apartheid areas. Having started in mid-April, Katie was worried that she’d gotten a late start for the season, but the way the weather has been, most people have only just started getting their plants in the ground, so she’s got time to catch up.
In 2018, Grow-A-Row debuted at the Bremerton and Port Orchard farmers markets as a produce donation table, relying on word of mouth to bring people in but mostly getting vegetables donated from the booths present. Kitsap County is unique in that there isn’t a whole lot of dedicated farmlands available and most farmers in the area only grow as much as they need, so invigorating and engaging urban gardeners was a must. In 2021, was the pilot for what the program is now, worked with home gardeners and community gardens to grow and donate their harvests. Within that first year, the Grow-A-Row program collected and distributed approximately 5,820 pounds of fresh produce.
One major part of this program is having donation stations set up throughout Kitsap County. Donation stations are designated drop off spots for gardeners to donate their excess veggies or produce they grew specially for the program. Hosted by a community member called a “Neighborhood Captain”, donation stations are simply a table with a cooler to store the produce, set up in a shady spot on the Captains’ property, and accessible to the public. Previously, each station had a luggage scale for donors to weigh and record the types of produce they donated on the “Captain’s Log”. At the time, Kitsap Harvest didn’t have their aggregation hub, so the produce was picked up by a volunteer and then immediately taken to one of their partnering organizations. This meant that some places were getting more of some things or things that maybe they couldn’t use. This year all weighing will take place at the hub which will simplify the process for gardeners and captains and make it easier for there to be quality control since everything will be sorted before being distributed.
Katie has been connecting with previous Captains, recruiting new ones, and hopes to have the donation stations up and running by early June. She’s been able to find a good spread of people around the county so the stations aren’t super close together and is planning to have tables at the Bremerton and Port Orchard farmers markets this year. Something she’d like to organize is some sort of get together for Captains in their area to interact and make connections with their neighbors, invite other people to come and learn about Grow-A-Row, and help stimulate the creation of communities around gardening. She looks forward to seeing what can be done when we all grow together.