Group digs into urban agriculture

Volunteers glean bounty of pears to give to food bank

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? What: Urban Abundance is a new program, part of Slow Foods Southwest Washington, focused on planning, harvesting and planting urban crops.

? When: A Dig In! Carrot Harvest to pull 2 acres of carrots for the Clark County Food Bank will be Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is part of the Harvest Fun Festival.

? Where: 78th Street Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St.

? Cost: Free.

? For more information: Visit www.myurbanabundance.org.

This year’s gloomy summer left gardeners with plenty to grumble about, but Wednesday afternoon a group of six local residents trolled through a backyard and came up with quite a bounty.

? What: Urban Abundance is a new program, part of Slow Foods Southwest Washington, focused on planning, harvesting and planting urban crops.

? When: A Dig In! Carrot Harvest to pull 2 acres of carrots for the Clark County Food Bank will be Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is part of the Harvest Fun Festival.

? Where: 78th Street Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St.

? Cost: Free.

? For more information: Visit www.myurbanabundance.org.

Donning gloves and carrying rakes and fruit pickers, they descended upon the well-kept garden of a home in the Northwest neighborhood, emerging a scant half hour later with crate upon crate of pears for a local food pantry.

The process is called gleaning — gathering the inevitable overflow of a harvest and putting it to good use. And though that is what’s keeping Warren Neth and his volunteers busy this time of year, their goal is something much more.

Neth, 31, is the director of a new program called Urban Abundance, a part of Slow Foods Southwest Washington, aimed at increasing the amount and types of food growing within city limits.

“There’s a longer history of gleaning in Vancouver,” he said. “It’s about folks being willing to go out and help others who are in need. It’s something we’d done for a long time in Vancouver and it’s good to get that going again.”

They’re looking for people to register their trees at www.myurbanabundance.org to be gleaned. They’re also hosting workshops (Tuesday’s topic: “Uncommon Fruit for Common Vancouver Backyards”). They’re creating seed balls — little orbs of clay, compost and native wildflower seeds. They’re sending schoolchildren out to interview older generations about kitchen gardens and how food production was done in the past.

The city of Vancouver provided a map of four neighborhoods — Harney Heights, Edgewood, Central Park and Hudson’s Bay — that shows where public land is, what the soil is like, where the water lines are and what other local groups, such as schools and churches, might be willing to help plant a garden there. The group also is working to get chestnut and fruit trees planted in city parks for people to pick.

“We’re just trying to get momentum going for urban agriculture,” Neth explained Wednesday. “We’re not so focused on backyard growing. We’re trying to push the boundary of urban agriculture, with more community gardens and more community orchards.”

Urban Abundance is guaranteed to be around for at least a year, funded by a $20,000 private donation, he said. They’re still working on the details of continuing after that.

But Neth said ultimately he’d like to see such abundant community gardens that growers could become urban farmers, with enough produce to start farmers markets or community supported agriculture programs that are solely stocked with food grown in the city.

On Wednesday, Neth and others munched on some of the European and Asian pears they gleaned, separating them into “good,” “OK” and “compost” categories. The good will go to One Life Food Pantry in Vancouver. The mediocre — fruit with broken skins — will go to the volunteers, including 24-year-old Nicole Thompson.

Thompson, an AmeriCorps volunteer with the city’s Urban Forestry department, was drawn to the gleaning event by memories of picking blueberries every Fourth of July with her family.

“I thought it would be a really great opportunity to learn about picking different kinds of fruit, and just get involved in a good cause,” she said. “I’ll be making lots of pear tarts tonight.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.