Urban Abundance promotes improved communication, more urban farming
By CHRISTY LOCHRIE
For the Capital Press
It's a conundrum for many in the Pacific Northwest: No matter how fertile the soil, no matter how tenderly they're cared for, no matter how much they're coddled or cajoled, garden tomatoes can be as elusive as a rainbow's end.
And yet there Warren Neth was, ears perked as a backyard gardener explained the finer points of warming the soil to nudge his plants into producing fruit in November. Tomatoes that, the proud gardener told him, were destined for his Thanksgiving table.
Neth, 31, nodded as he absorbed the gardening tips in the moments before an Urban Abundance forum was due to start at Vancouver Vineyard Church in Vancouver, Wash.
All of that tomato talk was like a portal to Neth's youth, a time when he and his stepfather lingered at a Ridgefield feed store counter, shelling peanuts, listening to tomato-growing banter and catching up on the latest news among their farming neighbors.
"It was always at least a half hour standing at the front counter," said Neth, whose family grew blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
As director of Urban Abundance, a Vancouver-based offshoot of Slow Foods Southwest Washington, a portion of his four-part objective is to capture that banter -- both old-school and present-day growing tips that gardeners, urban and otherwise, can share as they cultivate their own kitchen gardens.
The remaining three objectives of the organization, which started in June, is gleaning, creating more community gardening space, and planting trees that can be harvested for fruits and nuts.
The organization gleaned some 1,500 pounds of fruit in four harvests, which included plums, apples, pears and Asian pears.
Neth explained the gleaning deal this way: Half of the produce goes to area food banks and the remainder is split between the fruit-picking volunteers and the property owner. Property owners can register their trees on the organization's website for future harvests.
"Gleaning was always something that made sense to me," Neth said. "Grow a little extra and offer it up to someone who's having a hard time."
At the forum, Neth introduced Elaine Dorset, agricultural archaeologist at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, which originated with the Hudson's Bay Co.
Dorset gave a whirlwind tour of the region's agricultural history, beginning with American Indians' cultivation of tobacco and potatoes before skipping ahead to the Hudson's Bay Co.'s apple orchards, potato fields and livestock.
"The advent of agriculture in the Pacific Northwest was here," Dorset said.
Some 30 people soaked in the history and then offered up tidbits of their own during a story-sharing segment.. By January, some of those stories will be collected for a project that will task school children with interviewing community elders about their agricultural recollections, Neth said.
All of it, Neth hopes, will help to reconnect Clark County residents with their agricultural roots and the agriculture in the region.
"I don't think we can have an abundance unless we reconnect with our history," Neth said.
Occupation: Director of Urban Abundance
Hometown: Ridgefield, Wash.
Education: Bachelor's degree in sociology and organizational development from Evergreen State College