Friday, September 7, 2012

Organic Army?

Recently I talked about a farmer's market at a local hospital and asked what it would look like if all public institutions and other large workplaces had something similar happening in support of local, fresh food. Little did I know the answer to my question was right under my nose.

Last week I was honored to tour the organic gardens at a local military base. These gardens are part of a horticulture work-education program for incarcerated military personnel. The students spend a year working in a large garden and learning organic gardening techniques, landscaping, and soon enough- seed saving.

propagation in the greenhouse

The visionary behind the project hails from an organic farm in Ohio. A military man himself, his passion for rehabilitation of both the land and the people working it is awe-inspiring. As we discussed plans for the future, his eyes grew as big as his pumpkins. The program is ambitious and impressive. In only it's second year, this man and the college instructor he partners with have doubled the area cultivated and are looking to expand again next year- eventually using up to four acres of land that is mostly fallow.

Currently all the food that is grown is donated to the Thurston County Food Bank. There are a couple of greenhouses where the students learn seed starting, plant propagation, and other greenhouse techniques. During my tour another greenhouse was being assembled to allow for cultivation of vegetables in the winter- when the Food Bank lacks fresh vegetables.

one of many beds containing winter squash

Compost is produced on base and trucked over to amend the soil. Next year they hope to incorporate worms on site to create a vermi-culture project. An old, unused brick building is going to be disassembled and reused to build raised beds for people who live on base. They are also currently re-purposing a room at the facility to become a seed bank- containing organic seeds grown on site to be used in the program and also for the local community. That's where I come in. The Farm Coordinator of the Olympia Seed Exchange and I are teaming up to be guest lecturers to provide education to the students on all things seeds.

spinach going to seed

As I walked the land I wondered out loud "What would it look like if every base had organic gardens?" "What if food was grown instead of lawn on unused parts of government land everywhere?" The answer may come sooner than I think. People within the military are taking notice of the program and are touring it as well- to get ideas on how to incorporate it on other bases. I have to admit, the whole thing made me feel patriotic-how could I not be? I'm also proud I have been asked to bring my knowledge to help the larger community in a way I never thought possible.

This experience has led me to have a new question. If this program has the ability to sprout and grow, what else can we do as a society to work towards a secure food future? 


  1. This is so encouraging! I really hope that amazing program is instituted on other bases (and everywhere)! REally fantastic! Great article :)

  2. thanks! it was pretty cool to see how much they were doing with little funding. I hope this idea really catches on!