It was a long winter, but now that summer is finally here, the vegetable gardens around the House are getting crowded. Heads of lettuce are growing round and full. The kale and other hearty greens are bending over under the weight of their leaves. Tomato plants are climbing up their trellises. And there are even blueberries clustering on branches — green and tart still, but growing sweeter by the day.
All of this is thanks to the efforts of the Master Gardeners, a group of volunteers who maintain both the ornamental and vegetable gardens throughout the grounds. Their organization, the Master Gardener Foundation of King County, is aimed at connecting fellow gardeners, educating the public about gardening, and beautifying community spaces.
“With our work here, we can fulfill the mission of the program while also supporting a place that provides an important service,” says Jim Little. He’s been volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle for four years.
“We get so much appreciation from the families,” says Susan Eby, who has been volunteering at the House for 11 years. “It really makes us feel like we’re doing something good. ”
The first vegetable gardens were planted about a decade ago, and every few years since, the Master Gardeners have found new places to plant things. “We do keep expanding by little bits and pieces,” says Susan. Currently, there are two vegetable gardens, a fruit plot, and a small pumpkin patch. But that modest footprint produces quite a bounty: kale, lettuce, and peas in early summer; tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, strawberries, and blueberries in July and August; potatoes, carrots, and squash in the fall.
All this food is available for Ronald McDonald House residents to pick themselves. “We love to have families come into the garden,” says Jim. Once a week, the Master Gardeners also pick whatever is ready and take it into the kitchens for families to use. The fresh produce is a welcome addition to a kitchen mostly stocked with canned goods.
Sometimes, even the Gardeners are surprised at what residents want. “I once dug up a really gnarled looking bunch of carrots,” says Susan. “I thought nobody would want them. But a family was passing by and the mom was so excited. She said, ‘I love fresh carrots!’ and took them right out of my hand.” Once in the kitchens, the jalapenos often go quickly, while the kale — despite its hip reputation — tends to be less popular.
The Master Gardeners are always looking for suggestions, so if there’s something you think they should be growing, let us know in the comments below. To learn more about the Master Gardener organization, <a href=”http://www.mgfkc.org/”>check out their website</a>.