Group aims to teach urbanites to farm

Rene Featherstone/For the Capital Press Chrys Ostrander plants a symbolic peach tree at the launch of the p.e.a.c.h. community farm school near Spokane, Wash.

Spokane nonprofit builds a school to teach, feed hungry

BY RENÉ FEATHERSTONE

For the Capital Press

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Planting a peach tree was a powerful symbol for the 50 onlookers who gathered on a high Palouse plain 15 miles outside of Spokane on a blustery November day.

Eden Bright Spirit Hendrix had hot tea ready for the group, which had turned out to celebrate the dedication of 10 acres for a community farm school.

She outlined a far-reaching connectivity project, including Boy Scout troops, the YMCA, the Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice, the Spokane Regional Health District and poor city neighborhoods. At the center of this web is the nonprofit People for Environmental Action and Community Health, known as "p.e.a.c.h."

Hendrix said they're doing this by "producing fresh, local, safe food, and making this food accessible for all residents, regardless of income."

It started in 1999 with the goal "to create a sustainable local economy and increase food security."

"I decided to do something about how messed up the world is," Hendrix said. "I talked to other moms, and we formed p.e.a.c.h."

In 2004 they started Fresh Abundance, a community-supported agriculture operation for members, and an organic grocery store for the general public. They also began growing truck farm crops on 2 acres in Spokane Valley.

"One purpose of the farm is to make new farmers," Hendrix said.

The two-acre farm shut down this fall due to zoning issues, which is when Margaret and William Evans stepped forward and offered their 10 acres to p.e.a.c.h. on condition the acreage be put into a land trust.

The workers are many.

"There is YOUF, that stands for Young Organic Urban Farmers. We have a training program for them," Hendrix said. "Starting in 2011 we'll offer a two-year apprentice program for three or four young people. Our Farm Stands project will locate stands in neighborhoods where access to healthy food is difficult for poor people; those who come with food stamps can purchase organic produce at half price. And then there is the Farm Hands program that brings workers to the farm. Last year we had 630 people."

She acknowledged that seems like a lot of temporary workers on two acres, but they could have had more.

"Some government agencies are hungry for places to place people," she said. The Department of Corrections must find work for former prisoners in halfway houses, and the Juvenile Justice System needs to find community service hours for people sentenced to that work.

In addition, Hendrix said she has a list of 50 churches and youth organizations who want to contribute occasional workers. Some local schools want their students to experience outdoor work.

"Last year we had 60 first-graders plant our peas," Hendrix said. "They were so fun. But we'd soaked the peas before planting, and the kids wanted to eat them. ... Next time we'll make sure we'll have extra peas for the kids to taste."

The school will eventually have living quarters for resident farmers and apprentices in what is now a barn. A "sprout house" for producing bedding plants is also under construction.

The county health department is another potential supporter of the p.e.a.c.h. project, Hendrix said. The Centers for Disease Control recently published directives for regional health departments to implement programs that boost fresh fruit and produce consumption by 75 percent.

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