By Mike Prager The Spokesman-Review
SPOKANE — A group of college students pitched in last week to help get a community garden growing for the season in southwest Spokane.
The 18,000-square-foot plot uses the latest techniques in vegetable and berry farming to provide produce to low-income residents in the city.
Their partner is Washington State University Extension, which this week is celebrating its 100th year of providing research and assistance to Spokane and other counties in the state.
“We are looking at plugging some of the gaps in the existing food system,” said Brian Estes, program coordinator for the farm, which is operated through Catholic Charities on a donated plot.
The Vinegar Flats Community Farm was established in 2002 to help residents at the St. Margaret’s Shelter for women and children. It has evolved into providing fresh seasonal produce throughout the community, some of which is sold at local farmers markets.
WSU Spokane County Extension “has been a hub and connector” for making the garden productive with advice on the use of compost fertilizer, hoop houses and other techniques to maximize production, Estes said.
Consumers who are turning to locally produced food may not know that the WSU extension service is working hard to increase the supply of that food.
“Extension is the best-kept secret,” said Dori Babcock, extension director in Spokane County.
The extension service traces its history to congressional adoption of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, which provided funding for research and programs to get scientific knowledge out to farmers and communities.
For example, Spokane County Extension is offering two classes on raising goats in the urban environment this month following Spokane City Council adoption of an ordinance in March allowing small livestock inside the city.
The list of programs and information offered by the extension is a long one and includes food and nutrition education, master gardeners, 4-H youth development, rural living, garden and landscaping, forestry and wildlife.
Funding is driven in large measure by grants, Babcock said.
Many Spokane residents are familiar with the Master Gardener Plant Clinic at the extension office, where volunteers are available to identify problems and recommend solutions.
An open house Thursday to celebrate the extension program’s centennial will include food tastings, recipes and demonstrations from the Food $ense program.
Master composters will show how to turn pine needles and other yard debris into a soil conditioner.
There will even be a tasting of baked tree bark.