Scattered like seeds throughout Thurston County, Community Gardens in Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Rainier, Tenino and Yelm bring people together to grow fresh food and community. The Community Gardens are cooperative, with people sharing the work and the resulting crops. Those crops include fresh fruits and vegetables that often are donated to local food banks.

“Gardening is a healthy activity that also produces local, healthy food,” shares Lesley Price, RD, CD & Jennifer Johnson of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. “It can be done by people at just about every age and life stage and is a proven stress-relieving activity that gets people outdoors, breathing fresh air.”

In 2011, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services started to work with community partners to establish four community gardens. Two are still in operation today, The Garden of Weedin’ at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in East Olympia and The GraceWorks Church Community Garden in Lacey. “When grant funding became available in 2012, we wanted to help local communities start gardens to benefit their health for generations to come,” shares Price and Johnson.

The County does not oversee or maintain these gardens. Instead, each has managers who organize the care of the Community Gardens. There are 10 other community gardens in Thurston County, each with a manager or managers who run them.

Thurston County Public Health and Social Services started four community gardens, two of which are still going strong in 2024. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Public Health and Social Services

Why Community Gardens in Thurston County Are Important

“When communities can grow at least some of their own food while protecting their water resources by choosing slow-release fertilizers and only the safest pest and weed control products, they are more resilient,” shares Price and Johnson.

Providing fresh vegetables and fruits to food banks is one of the ways these community gardens bolster the area they are in.

Started in 2014, the Tenino FFA Community Garden is located at 500 W 2nd Street. Unique to this garden, FFA members – primarily high school students – work the garden during the school year, with community members pitching in more in the summer.  At This garden, produce is pooled for weekly volunteers to take what they need of the harvest. “The balance – probably 90% – is donated to the local food bank, Tenino Community Service Center/Food Bank Plus,” shares Sally Alhadeff one of the garden managers. “We also provide food to the schools’ kitchens.”

The Tenino FFA Community Garden grows all kinds of vegetables, including peppers, cucumbers, kale, carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuces and more. They also grow tomatoes.

At the St. Mark Community Garden in Lacey, residents can adopt one of the 46 raised beds each March for the growing season. Water is provided for all beds via the Church’s drip irrigation system. You will be able to harvest and use whatever is in your bed.

people working in a garden of big green leafy vegetables.
St. Mark Community Garden in Lacey is free, just donate 12 hours of your time to helping grow the 1-acre Food Bank Garden. Photo courtesy: Gail Frare

Since the beds at St. Mark Community Garden are free, it’s a way for those with lower incomes to have fresh fruits and vegetables. In return, they ask that you donate 12 hours of volunteer time in the 1-acre Food Bank Garden, which grows over 13,000 pounds for the Thurston County Food Bank each summer, shares Gail Frare, garden coordinator. “We are also blessed to have some very dedicated volunteers who spend hours each summer helping,” she adds.  They grow fruits and vegetables including blueberries, celery, apples, pears, cucumbers, green beans, squash and more.

Olympia Parks, Arts, & Recreation runs two community gardens, Yauger Park Community Garden and Sunrise Park Community Garden. These large community gardens have 79 and 55 garden plots, respectively. They do charge a fee for community members to rent the use of a plot for one year.  “Our community gardens are important because they offer families the opportunity to grow produce in a high-density neighborhood where open space for agriculture is limited,” shares Luke Burns, recreation supervisor for the City of Olympia.

The Sunrise Garden was originally a partnership with GRuB in 2009. As GRuB moved to focus on their Kitchen Garden Project, the City of Olympia took over the operation. It was so successful, that in 2010 they added the Yauger Park Community Garden. “Since that time the two gardens have been managed by the Parks Department with help from local nonprofits supporting work parties and gardening classes and events,” shares Burns.

The St. Mark Community Garden in Lacey. Photo courtesy: Gail Frare

While expensive, the city considers these gardens very important, Burns says. “The maintenance costs are high, and a lot of staff time and resources go into keeping the gardens in operation,” he explains. “The garden registration fees roughly cover the cost of water. The management, registration and maintenance costs come out of the department’s general fund. We feel the community garden program is important, and therefore we continue to pour time and attention into supporting the gardens.”

Both of the City of Olympia Community Gardens have ADA-accessible plots. They also offer a scholarship for those who cannot afford the membership fee, which covers 75% of the cost. They open their registration in January and all beds are full by the end of the month, so plan to act fast if you want one!

Getting Involved in a Community Garden in Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Rainier, Tenino and Yelm

If you are interested in gardening for yourself, or donating your produce to a local food bank, contact the Community Gardens via the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services website. They list the general information or each garden, including contact numbers and emails. Or, maybe you are interested in starting another community garden! These people can help you know what is needed to do just that.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are important for our physical health. Gardening is good for your mental and physical health. Socialization is vital for mental health. Get all three at a local Community Garden in Thurston County.

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