By Shawna Walls
August 17, 2006
Using the space where most homes have a lawn and
shrubs, Jean Schanen and Glenn Huff help feed their neighborhood.
On a narrow street in West Bremerton,
the front yard (and the back yard, and the deck above the back yard)
of Schanen and Huffís modest house is eye-catching. Raised planting
beds are filled, not with flowers or decorative foliage, but with
melons, cucumbers and eggplant. A thick crop of basil lines the
front walk, brushing its appetizing scent on any visitor approaching
"Itís a garden for
the community," Schanen said of the extensive edible plantings all
around her home.
Much of what Schanen and her husband
raise is sold directly to neighbors. The rest of the crop is sold
just a few blocks away at Evergreen Market.
Growing food at home is nothing new,
of course. Among fluffy hydrangeas and colorful bulbs, many
Northwest gardeners include the occasional fruit tree or tomato
vine. However, not since the days of Victory Gardens in World War II
have many Americans gotten a significant portion of their food from
a local source.
The buzz of busy modern lives means
meals are often pre-packaged. Rapid shipping brings produce from
around the world to stack high in huge supermarkets. Yet there are
significant benefits, Schanen said, to small-scale agriculture.
Locally grown seasonal produce is easier
to farm sustainably and organically, she said, and with little need
for transportation or heavy farm equipment, the environmental and
fuel costs of production and shipping are curbed.
"Thereís a huge energy savings involved
in having food thatís grown at home or in the neighborhood," Schanen
The benefits of
community-based agriculture go beyond conserving resources.
Advocates such as the National Gardening Association point out that
home gardens can also supply food in an emergency. In the event of a
disaster or other crisis that blocks grocery supply chains, having a
community food garden can keep people fed until shipping can resume.
Schanen said she and Huff first
became interested in growing food crops when they lived in Belize
from 1980 to 1993. With no prior gardening experience, they put
together an extensive farm project by researching at local
libraries. After they returned, they settled in Wisconsin, and set
up a project there. Three years ago, they retired and moved to
Bremerton to be near their children, who live in Seattle.
The local climate is ideal for home
agriculture, Schanen said. "You can grow stuff year-round here."
It took some time to convert their
yard into a fertile place to grow food, but with composting, hard
work and the ingenuity of Huff, an engineer, they got things going.
"We make a very good team," Schanen
said. "Iím research, heís development."
Schanen said they hope to set up a
Community Supported Agriculture program by next year. These are
arrangements in which members buy shares in a local farm in the
winter that entitle them to a portion of the crop during harvest
season. This helps sustain gardeners through the low production
season, and ensures planting enough for demand at harvest.
Another benefit to the project,
Schanen said, is getting to know the community. Their garden
attracts attention from passers-by, and several houses in the
neighborhood now have food gardens of their own. Neighbors
frequently drop by to buy an item or two, or share what theyíve
"Itís a wonderful way to meet
people," Schanen said.