Meeting to discuss community orchard

Published on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 by Tara Nelson

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Local residents who want to get involved in growing food for the community and learn more about gardening will want to attend a meeting hosted by the city of Blaine and volunteers from the Bellingham food bank’s Small Potatoes gleaning program next week.

The meeting will discuss possible plans for a community orchard on the city’s Seventh Street right-of-way that would be maintained by volunteers and produce food for local food banks and individuals in the community.
The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 7 at the Blaine library and will facilitate dialogue between individuals and project organizers.

City manager Gary Tomsic said the idea for the project came from Blaine resident Kelle Sunter, who contacted Bellingham food bank last summer to donate extra from fruit trees on her property.

Sunter then partnered with Bellingham resident Max Morange, who heads the food bank’s Small Potatoes Project gleaning program, in which volunteers glean fresh, produce that would otherwise go to waste and distribute it to 27 different emergency food providers in Whatcom County.

Residents who donate fruit are then given a tax receipt for the market value of the fruit.

Tomsic said he liked the idea of a community orchard because it would benefit low-income individuals as well as create a more local economy.

It could also qualify the city of Blaine for certain state grants that require cities to put in place sustainable policies and programs as well as attract more like-minded individuals to move here.

“People want to be part of a community that cares about others in the community and cares about the environment,” he said. “We see that kind of thinking being integrated more and more into the policy level and this is a real, living example of how that works. It won’t change the world, but for those who are involved, it will make a difference and our community will benefit directly.”

Most of the fruit grown in the Blaine community orchard would be distributed within the Blaine community as well as the Blaine and Birch Bay food banks.

Tomsic said because the project will be maintained by community volunteers, the project won’t pose a cost to the city except for the donation of a small piece of land on Seventh Street it will allow for use.

The Small Potatoes Project was started nine years ago by Everson resident Rio Thomas and a group of volunteers using minivans and station wagons to transport the food.

Morange said over time it became more organized and developed a core of passionate volunteers who lived throughout the county.

The program was taken over by the Bellingham food bank last year when Thomas stepped down from her role as chief organizer.

Last year, Small Potatoes volunteers harvested more than 135,000 pounds of fresh, locally-grown produce that was distributed throughout the county.

“It was an incredible year,” Morange said. “There were more than 15 different farms and during the course of the growing season, we organized 70 to 80 gleaning work parties.”

Morange said he and other organizers were excited about the possibility of harvesting fresh, local produce that would otherwise go to waste and helping deliver that produce to Blaine food bank and other organizations.

“We’re really supportive and excited about what the city is doing because what it will do is act as the organizational force behind using fruit that already exists or that could be planted and managed by the community,” he said.

Tomsic said Washington State University’s extension program and Blaine high school horticulture teacher George Kaas have also expressed interest in the program.

For more information, call Tomsic at 332-8311.