By Linda Degnan Cobos, Slow Food Land & Sea board member
Edited by Robin Mosley, Communications and Development Coordinator
Tucked away on San Juan Island, Friday Harbor, WA, the Slow Food Land & Sea chapter is rooted in sustainable initiatives that celebrate the Pacific Northwest. The Land & Sea Learning Garden, our chapter’s main initiative, is a community-focused garden situated on county-owned property. For the past 13 years, we’ve had an ongoing partnership with our county to establish and care for a garden on vacant county lands. In return, we agree to make appropriate use of the area and tend to three kinds of heritage apples, including a King apple and a Gravenstein, as well as Bartlett pears and Green Gauge plum trees situated on the property.
Established by our chapter in 2010, the garden has served as a resource for learning, food production and as a resource for families and individuals. Our garden site has also become a spot for islanders and visitors to sit at the county-provided picnic tables on the lawn under the fruit trees, and in spring and summer, to look at the beautiful flowers we have growing in our garden and along the fence line (and the lively bees, birds and many other pollinators that visit them, too).
Over the years, we’ve created programs, provided resources and made the space and produce available to serve students and others. We have donated to the nearby Friday Harbor Food Bank, Senior Center, Family Resource Center, and to the wider community.
In the summer of 2023, we partnered with the San Juan Island Public Library in their wonderful StoryWalk program, where story walk signs from a picture book are posted along the outside of the garden fence to view, page by page. Moving forward, our plan is to continue these partnerships. We also plan to host tours and talks this summer for the Master Gardeners, for the San Juan Garden Club, and serve as a site for formal and informal visits by island seniors and others.
In the past four years, we’ve focused on infrastructure — fencing, irrigation systems, gates, storage, raised beds, compost stations and educational signage. We changed course during the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak and more of the food we grew to the food bank. We still make an effort to provide what we have to those in need.
Last season we grew culinary, dye and pollinator/cut flowers, as well as vegetables, fruits, berries and grains, including several Presidia and Ark of Taste crops (Makah Ozette potatoes, Roveja peas, Hidatsa Shield and Red beans, Painted Mountain Corn sourced from Steve Crider of the Organic Seed Alliance at the 2023 Ska-Com Seed Swap, and Red Fife wheat, to name a few favorites), with interpretive signage about some of our plants and pollinators posted nearby.
We currently partner with community and social services and other organizations. Our chapter aims to be a resource for students, seniors, families and individuals. During the summers, we partner with our County Health Department for the toddler program Seed to Sprout and the related Master Gardeners family workshops called Grow Your Own Food. Our work doesn’t stop there!
In the fall of 2023, we joined in partnership with a group of families with young children who had been searching for a garden space to farm cooperatively. This decision has been a great one, as we move ahead slowly and surely; families decide on and will use the very food they grow. Our partner families worked together this fall harvesting already growing Painted Mountain corn, tomatoes, peppers, beets, carrots, beans, herbs and flowers, then planted garlic and onions in those spaces, and have been preparing beds this fall and winter, and researching seeds and plants to order and to start in the greenhouse for early spring.
San Juan Island has a large and diverse community of people across all socioeconomic levels, including middle and lower-income working people, families and seniors. Reflecting that reality, as in so many communities, many potential volunteers also hold one, or even two, full-time jobs — a challenge both for those who volunteer and for groups needing volunteers. Our community has given great support to the garden and shown much appreciation for our projects.
Fundamentally, we use what we can find creatively in our backyards, repurposing lumber, tools and other materials, and volunteers, board members, local businesses, and a regional philanthropic organization have generously donated, making our growing efforts successful. Most recently this includes a new yard hydrant, plumbing install work, porta potty and service at our site, framing lumber, a new portable greenhouse, a repurposed tool shed, and more. We recently got a donation of high-quality drip irrigation tape from a company in Oregon, and we’ve had equally generous help and donations from individuals. Our local hardware and building supply stores, local excavation company, and an equipment rental company have given materials and equipment. Our board members and charitable organizations, including our island’s garden club, a visiting kayak club, and a Oregon-based organization, have donated funds over these years. We feel so lucky to live in such a supportive community!
Additional links and resources
- Joyce L. Sobel Family Resource Center, San Juan Island: https://sjifrc.org/
- Friday Harbor Food WA Food Bank: https://fridayharborfoodbank.weebly.com/
- About San Juan Island WA Garden Club: https://www.sanjuanjournal.com/life/san-juan-island-garden-club-celebrates-75-years/
- San Juan Island Garden Club http://sjigardenclub.weebly.com/
- San Juan Island (Washington State University) Master Gardeners:
- San Juan County WA Health Dept – Healthy Communities: https://www.sanjuancountywa.gov/1784/Healthy-Communities
- San Juan County WA Health Dept – Community Health Services: https://www.sanjuancountywa.gov/418/Community-Health
- San Juan Island WA Library StoryWalk 2023 partnership with SF Land & Sea Learning Garden: https://www.sjlib.org/youth/childrens-page/2023-storywalk/
- SJC Health Dept/SJI Master Gardeners Seed To Sprout/Grow Your Own Food: http://tinyurl.com/SeedtoSproutGrowYourOwnFood