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Local food banks gain from friendly gardening competition
While volunteers turn the soil and add compost to gardening beds, Willie Riggs looks over the grounds and knows the same preparations are happening on the other side of the mountains, about 80 miles to the West.
Over in Central Point, bragging rights are shared with Philip VanBuskirk, as their communities gear up for a "fun and friendly" competition to see which group of volunteers can harvest the most vegetables.
Riggs, director of the Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center in Klamath Falls, and Van Buskirk, director of the OSU Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, have shared this friendly rivalry for five years.
"Actually we don't track enough to know for sure who has won over the years," Riggs said. "We use a scale I picked up at a yard sale. The real goal is to funnel food into local food banks."
And so it has been the last several years when at least 50 people have come to the one-acre plots at each experiment station to weed, water and harvest. Last year the combined harvest was more than 40,000 pounds of onions, carrots, sweet corn, potatoes, winter squash, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, snow peas, eggplant, tomatillos, tomatoes and beans.
Besides the opportunity to fill food banks, the gardens get people involved who might otherwise seldom visit OSU Extension and agricultural research stations. "It's a great way to show how we partner at the local level to accomplish a goal," Riggs said, "and it gives Phil and me a chance to poke at each other."
The work also is ideal for Master Gardeners, who can earn volunteer credit for the training they receive through OSU Extension. "Out of that group came a core of volunteers who helped plan and work the garden," VanBuskirk said." Most of these people are still running the gardens after six summers in a row."
Most of the work was carried out by volunteers and local Rotary clubs. Others who have worked the plots include a 4-H nutrition project, a Taekwondo group, a gospel mission and a woman's crisis center. Also joining in have been UTurn For Christ men, Southern Oregon Spartans, SOU students, Job Counsel Youth and even crews from the local jail. In addition, Ashland Greenhouses supplied hundreds of plants ready for planting at the Central Point garden.
Partnerships have flourished with Rotary clubs in Klamath County, Master Gardeners, KBREC radio and youth groups. The Klamath/Lake Food Bank and ACCESS are the nonprofit community action agencies that distribute the vegetables to area food banks.
The connection with Rotary's First Harvest gardens began in 2005 when Carol Wythe of the Jackson County Rotary and Sharon Parks of Klamath Falls Rotary asked VanBuskirk if the Rotary groups could work together with the experiment stations.
"Since then, OSU Extension has become our biggest and most helpful partner," Wythe said. "It paid for a consultant who turned the soil, tilled for weed reduction and helped manage the garden, while taking on responsibility for watering." Darrin Culp, an OSU horticulture faculty research assistant, did many of the same duties at Klamath Falls.
"The communities embraced the effort," VanBuskirk said. "Over the years we have had support in money, grants, in-kind donations and volunteer work from many local groups and businesses."
How does the competition stack up? "Phil has the definite advantage in this game because he has a longer growing season," Riggs said. "Our main advantage is that potatoes add a lot of weight to our total harvest."
Author: Judy Scott