White Center Food Bank turns a parking lot into something unexpected

By Amanda Mancenido, Communities of Opportunity

A parking lot may be an unexpected place to find healthy fruits and vegetables and community members connecting with one another. But that’s just what you will see when you visit the White Center Food Bank.

The need for affordable fruits and vegetables comes as no surprise to them. Alongside many other organizations in White Center, the Food Bank has been working through Communities of Opportunity to build on assets that address community needs and improve health and well-being.

In 2017, White Center community members reported lack of affordable, healthy food as one of the greatest barriers to improving health.

“The demand for fresh, culturally relevant produce comes directly from our customer base,” says Mara Bernard, Community Gardens Manager at White Center Food Bank. “And we want to support their healthy choices by making produce readily available for those who rely on us.”

Transforming a parking lot
When Mara first started working in their garden, she knew she had a lot of work ahead of her. Limited garden space, soil issues, and few pollinators meant the garden wasn’t producing as many fresh fruits and vegetables as she hoped, and she knew they could do more.

But they only had a parking lot to work with. So they had to get creative.

Thanks to help and donations from community members, they were able to build raised beds and a rainwater catchment system to turn the parking lot into a garden and triple their growing space.

What we grow reflects the tastes of our community

In designing the expansion, Mara wanted to ensure not only that they provide plenty of fresh healthy food for their customers, but also that they offer culturally relevant produce to meet the needs of their diverse community. “We could give out heads upon heads of lettuce, but if it’s not what our customers actually want to eat, what’s the use?” she said. “What we grow should reflect our community.”

With recommendations from customers and donations from community, Mara introduced produce new to the garden, but familiar to many of the community members, including Thai eggplants, mouse melons, and rat-tail radishes.

“We want our customers to have choice in their lives, and the cascading benefits of fresh, healthy food creates a vibrant, nourished community. ”
— Mara Bernard, White Center Food Bank

With this garden expansion, White Center Food Bank has already more than doubled their harvest, with over 1,500 pounds of fresh produce harvested so far this year. Mara says their new growing capacity will be particularly helpful in the winter. “This expansion means we can continue providing fresh produce to our customers even when donations slow down in the winter months.”

Young people growing their own food
The garden now also features a larger selection of perennials, which will provide fruit, edible roots, and shade in the garden. Mara shares many of the plant starts and seeds with customers and community gardeners, including students at Cascade Middle School. Through partnership with the school, White Center Food Bank has been able to increase their gardening education programming and help reduce barriers to community members growing their own food.

With this garden expansion and their recent renovation to a grocery store shopping model, White Center Food Bank continues to put community first as they increase food security and advance the health and well-being of their community.

Learn more about Communities of Opportunity and its growing network of community members and partners working together to create greater health, social, economic, and racial equity in King County.

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