Citizens plant vegetables, new idea at Bainbridge City Hall

 Alana MacWhorter works side-by-side with her father Brian MacWhorter, owner of Butler Green Farms, to work the soil before planting a corn patch at City Hall.  - Debbi Lester/Courtesy Photo
Alana MacWhorter works side-by-side with her father Brian MacWhorter, owner of Butler Green Farms, to work the soil before planting a corn patch at City Hall.
— image credit: Debbi Lester/Courtesy Photo

The doors to City Hall were locked Monday, but the citizens who showed up to work didn’t let that stop them from being productive.

About 20 people — from kids in their teens to retirees — dressed in colorful slickers against the steady downpour, weeded and dug around the landscaping. In the empty pockets between the ornamentals they planted produce: kale, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and even a little corn.

Considering that there’s 60 acres of publicly owned farmland on the island, a few more veggies doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But for organizers of the Bainbridge Public Produce planting party, veggies weren’t the main crop. Mostly, they were planting a new idea.

“At the end of the day, we all are the city,” said Trudi Inslee, who helped plant the seed when she brought author Darrin Nordahl to IslandWood to present the concept of “municipal agriculture,” that is, planting edibles on public property such as parks, plazas, streets, city squares, parking lots, libraries, schools, government offices and even jails.

COBI Associate Planner Steve Morse was in the audience that night in April, as was Sallie Maron, president of SoundFood (, the Bainbridge nonprofit that advocates for local food and farming on and around Bainbridge.

The two cross-pollinated after the presentation: Why not plant vegetables at City Hall?

They took the idea to City Council members Debbi Lester and Barry Peters who presented it to then-interim City Manager Lee Walton.

“I was surprised how quickly Walton said yes. He said plant blueberries, raspberries. He had a list,” Lester said.

With a green light from the city, farmer Betsey Wittick, of Laughing Crow Farm, got on board with expertise, a team of interns and her trusty mattock.

Brian MacWhorter, owner of Butler Green Farms, contributed flats of starts and a truckload of compost.

The city’s “Wellness Committee” members, Heather Beckmann and Kelly Dickson have adopted the project and will monitor the plants.

But Councilor Peters said the community spirit of the project doesn’t stop when the plants go in the ground.

“It’s all of us,” he said. “‘They’ are not going to do it [weed and maintain]. It’s time to get away from the us-and-them thinking. Everyone is welcome to pick strawberries when they come in season, to pick the salad greens when they are in season.”

“Take a vegetable, pull a weed,” Lester suggested.

“A good idea should spread,” Maron said. “This barn raising-like effort symbolizes how we govern ourselves. Everyone can come together to do good, to be good.”

Despite the soggy weather, most workers were all smiles.

Young Abe Waite, 13, shoveled compost from the back of Brian MacWhorter’s pick up. Waite will receive school credit for community service from the Madrona School where he attends.

Alana MacWhorter was in town from Scripps College in Chino, Calif., where she is studying urban farming, working with the only Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the area.

“It’s cool to come home and see this,” she said, cultivating the soil side-by-side with her father.

The all-volunteer effort put a new twist on the idea of community supported agriculture.

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