MALTBY — Matt Lambert spends his work weeks supervising big construction projects: the kind that grace the Seattle skyline and have eight-figure budgets.
But on the last day in September, the project executive from Howard S. Wright Construction grabbed hand tools to fix up some wooden planting beds as part of a smaller endeavor. He was among 474 building-industry professionals who volunteered for a day-long blitz to help a nonprofit’s mission of teaching urban farming techniques.
They were part of the annual community enhancement project organized by the Washington state chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. This year, they came en masse to Farmer Frog’s headquarters off Paradise Lake Road in Maltby.
“Every year is a little different and a lot of fun,” said Lambert, who has participated for about six years. “It’s a pretty amazing process to watch go from nothing to something.”
Farmer Frog started leasing space at Snohomish County’s Paradise Valley Conservation Area in 2015. The group’s headquarters includes an old barn from the Lloyd family farmstead. Descendents of the pioneer family sold off land to the county for a public park.
The volunteers Sept. 30 planted fruit trees for a new orchard. They built greenhouses and started gardens, put down mulch and pulled out blackberries.
“It’s not just that a lot of people showed up — a lot of them knew what they were doing,” said Zsofia Pasztor, Farmer Frog’s executive director. “It’s stunningly beautiful now and it will only be more lush as the plants grow.”
Pasztor, a horticulture teacher and landscaping consultant, started Farmer Frog in 2009 while working on a food garden with students from Olivia Park Elementary in Everett. Today, the nonprofit works regularly with schools from around the region. Students learn about growing food for their family and about selling produce at farmers markets.
Farmer Frog hopes to expand its schedule of classes in January, thanks to the new gravel floor the volunteers put down.
“We do this every year around the same time, the end of September, the beginning of October,” said Bryce Taylor, a project executive with GLY Construction in Bellevue. “We plan for the one-day event, but we have to prep for it.”
The prep work can start up to a month beforehand. The groundwork helps make the best use of so many volunteers on the big day. Past projects have included an alternative high school campus in Burien, the YMCA’s Camp Terry in Preston and the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Redmond.
Donated labor and materials this year totaled more than $300,000, Taylor said. Another $67,000 in cash donations went toward building supplies, as well as lunch and breakfast for the volunteers.
Locally based donors included Cedar Grove Composting and Bobby Wolford Trucking & Demolition, which contributed mulch and wood chips.
The laborers built four new greenhouses. They installed an innovative indoor-farming system reclaimed from greenhouses that were torn down this summer at Everett’s Cascade High School. When up and running, the aquaponics system will pipe waste from tanks of live fish to fertilize planting beds full of crops.
“I’m glad to see that they’ll be put to use again,” said Jack McLeod, a science and engineering teacher at Cascade.
The volunteer labor won’t just benefit Farmer Frog; it stands to help the county parks department maintain and improve Paradise Valley.
A new gravel road should give the county a head start on an expanding the often-overcrowded parking lot, said Amy Lucas, a county parks planner. This spring, the county plans to add at least 10 new horse-trailer parking stalls, up from just two now. Plans also call for at least another 40 regular parking spots, adding to approximately 20 existing stalls.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald net.com. Twitter:@NWhaglund.
Visit Farmer Frog’s open house this weekend
Where: 23210 Paradise Lake Rd, Woodinville
When: 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday.