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Garden-Variety Giving: How One Mom's Garden Feeds a Community

Finding Community Partners

She turned to Tom Lamar, founder and executive director of the Palouse Clearwater-Environmental Institute (PCEI), which supports local, organic farming, for help filling out applications and writing grant proposals. Using her graphic design skills, Amy set up a Web site so she could launch a donation drive. "PCEI had generously agreed to be our fiscal sponsor, which meant that until Backyard Harvest was legally established, any funds I raised would be donated to the institute, and it deposited the money in an account for us," she explains.

Once Backyard Harvest was up and running last year, Amy began offering free gardening kits to new members who contributed $25 or more. "We have about $14,000 in the bank," says Amy. "It may not sound like much, but our expenses are low. I'm still a volunteer, as are all our gardeners, who use their own cars and pay for their own gas. We have just two paid staffers, including one we call the Gleaning Coordinator, who takes all the requests for pickups and organizes who goes where."

Amy still gets a helping hand from her family. When a call comes in from someone with trees bursting with cherries or a patch full of pumpkins, "we all pile in the car," she says. "Tom and Sam, who are now 9 and 6, love seeing new places and meeting new people. Mark and I might sit and have coffee with an elderly couple before we pick the peaches in their backyard and the boys will play with their kittens. They'll feed apples to the horses on a farm near an orchard that gave us several bushels. Or we'll just sit right down and eat some of whatever we've picked. I have a picture of Sam totally covered in cherry juice and looking really happy!"

The kids still tend their own garden, a popular field trip destination for their teachers and classmates. "The students might harvest berries, plant cucumbers, prepare boxes for the food banks, or do crafts, like carving dried gourds into bird houses," says Amy. "They also love making worm bins by putting shredded paper into wooden crates. We feed them scraps and then use their waste as fertilizer—a great firsthand lesson in ecology. But just seeing plants grow can be a real learning experience. One little boy was amazed to find out that peas come from a pod and not a frozen dinner!"