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WSU Master Gardeners Help Financially, Physically Challenged Residents Grow Their Own Vegetables

LONGVIEW, Wash.—Rebecca Branderhorst went a little crazy in her vegetable garden last spring.

The Longview, Wash., resident planted pole green beans, Oregon pea pods, lima beans, three kinds of lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, carrots, bunching onions, white Spanish onions, chives, celery, cilantro and beets. All of it in a 4-by-8-foot box. By midsummer, Branderhorst’s garden looked like a mini-jungle of edible delights.

Rebecca Branderhorst of Longview, Wash., inspects her vegetable garden. Photo courtesy of Gary Fredricks.
Rebecca Branderhorst of Longview, Wash., inspects her vegetable garden. Photo courtesy of Gary Fredricks.

But that kind of enthusiasm was what Washington State University Extension’s Gary Fredricks wanted to see. He started a new program last year in Cowlitz County that promotes local food production through vegetable gardening while helping those financially or physically challenged to raise their own produce.

“Home VEG (Vegetable Educational Garden) removes some of the barriers that stop people from starting a garden,” Fredricks said. “It’s a great success. All 10 families that participated grew great gardens, learned from their mistakes and expect to produce even more in 2013.”

Raised beds ease effort

The program pairs WSU Master Gardener volunteers with local residents who apply and are accepted. The Master Gardeners build raised beds and provide soil, seeds, plant starts and advice. Growers attend a class on vegetable gardening and do all the work to maintain the garden for three years.

For Branderhorst, the raised bed was the best part. She had knee replacement surgery in September 2011, effectively preventing her from digging in the dirt on her hands and knees. The bed had other benefits as well.

“There were no slug problems, much fewer weeds and with my knee replacement, the access to weeding/planting/tending was so nice,” she said.

Branderhorst was so inspired by her experience that she planted root vegetables in her gardening bed over the winter, banking on Longview’s tendency toward rain for another chance to stock up her larder.

“So far, it looks like some of them are doing okay,” she said. “I’ve got little potatoes out there that I hope to throw in a soup or stew.”

Healthy eating

Barbara Byker of neighboring Kelso liked the raised beds for a different reason.

“Living on dredge spoils [the sand, sediment and debris from dredging that are transported to land to dry out], we have had poor results from previous gardens,” Byker said. “We planted corn, beans, peas, zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins and yellow crook-necked squash. We ate better and enjoyed trying new veggies.”

Longview resident and gardener Pam Atkinson. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Hull.
Longview resident and gardener Pam Atkinson. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Hull.

Master Gardener mentors like Jon Griffin enjoyed helping program participants uncover their green thumbs. Griffin worked with Bob Griffith last year and found the Longview resident very willing to try new things—and learn that even one zucchini plant was too much.

“I can see the information Master Gardeners supply connects in a very important way with many members of our community,” Griffin said. “I think this program is a very helpful, healthy teaching program.”

Rewards and accomplishment

Master Gardener Phyllis Hull, who worked with Longview’s Pam Atkinson, also appreciated helping others learn to grow their own food. But nothing beat the feeling Hull had when she visited Atkinson’s garden to take some photos of her harvest.

“The garden was pretty well picked clean,” Hull said. “I asked Pam what happened to her vegetables. She proudly raised her head high and with a sly grin proclaimed, ‘I ate them.’

“I was never as happy as I was for her that day,” Hull said. “Her success and feeling of accomplishment were written all over her face, along with a little tomato juice.”


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