Urban farm Giving Garden donates all veggies, fighting pandemic food insecurity

Washington state is working to fight food insecurity as a record number of struggling families are turning to food banks.

An urban farm called “Giving Garden” in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood is working to help keep people fed, donating thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables to people in need.

But now the farm is also in need of some help — the pandemic has stripped away its usual stream of volunteers.

Currently in season at Giving Garden are blush onions, collard greens, tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers, to name just a few of the vegetables in the ground.

“We’ve got lots of good stuff,” said Scott Behmer, the farm coordinator for Solid Ground. Solid Ground is the non-profit that runs the garden.

“It’s such an amazing hidden gem in the city,” said Liz Reed Hawk, a Solid Ground employee who usually works on web content, but came out Wednesday to help weed the garden.

This urban farm Giving Garden donates ALL their veggies to the local food bank & senior center. Did you know it’s right in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood?

Harvested veggies travel just about a mile away to the Providence Regina Food Bank and South Park Senior Center, meaning the produce is just about as fresh as it gets.

The difference this year? The COVID-19 pandemic and record unemployment means demand at food banks is much higher — about double the usual demand.

“A lot of food banks are in desperate need for more sources of food,” Behmer said.

Washington State, worried about worsening food insecurity, is building a "COVID strategic reserve" — a stockpile of shelf-stable foods.

The Giving Garden is helping with the “fresh” part, donating more than a thousand pounds of veggies last month, but they are facing their own challenges in the pandemic as well.

“We have seen a huge decrease in volunteers actually with all of this,” Behmer said.

He said there used to be teams of 30 to 70 people from companies in the area, sending groups to volunteer as part of team -building activities.

Kids from schools would come too, sometimes to learn about health food and nutrition, or just to pitch in.

Now it's usually just a few volunteers at a time.

“It’s extremely difficult, yeah,” Behmer said.

The lack of volunteers means a constant battle in the soil against weeds.

“There’s always more weeds,” he said.

They’re limiting volunteers to 15 people at a time, but anyone who wants to help can visit their webpage to sign up, with no experience needed.

The Giving Garden parent company, non-profit Solid Ground, gets support from the city and state, plus local businesses. Grocery chain QFC just donated $12,000 through their Zero Hunger Zero Waste foundation.

But the farm also need hands-on help to grow food for families.

“To be able to really give back and use your body to give a really tangible impact, it’s great,” said Jalayna Carter, another employee with Solid Ground helping weed the farm on Wednesday.