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Federal Way community gardens harvest top volunteer: 'It's so much more than food'
The community garden concept is wrapping its tendrils around multiple areas of life in Federal Way.
The non-profit Federal Way Community Gardens foundation is responsible for building seven such gardens across the city. That includes the flagship garden at the Federal Way Senior Center. In 2011, the senior center and Truman High School gardens generated a combined 15,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables. This harvest helped feed needy seniors and families while stocking local food banks.
The senior center garden opened in 2009 under the vision of Federal Way resident Mike Stanley, the foundation's executive director and master gardener. Stanley's goal is to spread the community garden concept across the city, utilizing gardens for both educational and charity purposes.
So far, the vision is becoming a reality. The foundation has developed gardens at Camelot, Enterprise, Green Gables and Nautilus elementary schools, with a design started at Olympic View Elementary School. There are also plans for a garden at the school district's new "bus barn" near Celebration Park. In addition, the foundation is involved with a garden at Light of Christ Lutheran Church that broke ground last fall.
Volunteers are an integral part of the gardens' success. On Jan. 30, the foundation honored Joelle Dontigny as its volunteer of the year.
Dontigny, who donated more than 300 hours of her time in the past year, said the honor is all hers.
Every Wednesday, Dontigny delivers fresh organic vegetables to low-income seniors who live near the Federal Way Transit Center. The weekly food delivery has turned into a social opportunity for residents at the Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG) community.
Dontigny's life has been touched by the people she helps feed — and apparently, her efforts touch the lives of those people too. She recalled a senior who grabbed her arm during one food delivery. He looked her straight in the eye and said, "God bless you." Several of the people she helps, like this man, are relieved just to have food. These scenarios help bring the community garden concept, and her volunteer work, full circle.
"It's so much more than just food," Dontigny said of the garden foundation's reach. "Who knew a garden could do that? We feed people every week. That's awesome."
During a Jan. 30 gathering at Truman High School, Stanley praised volunteers like Dontigny for epitomizing the garden foundation's mission, which includes raising the quality of life in Federal Way. Stanley noted that he is working on a book that shows how to build community gardens. The book will provide a month-by-month blueprint for schools that incorporate gardening into their curriculums.
Last spring, Camelot Elementary teacher Darcy Borg told The Mirror that the school's garden adds another dimension to education. Students of all ages can find an outlet in the garden, which deepens their understanding and appreciation of nature, science, nutrition and math, she said. Aside from encouraging exercise, working in a garden teaches patience as students nurture their crops from seed to harvest.
Dozens of schools across Western Washington sport community gardens. The concept has been embraced in other states including California, where the California School Garden Network wants to establish gardens at every school. Several online reports suggest that students involved in gardening score higher on achievement tests and develop positive attitudes toward healthy foods.
To learn more about Federal Way Community Gardens, visit federalwaycommunitygardens.org.