Imagine Ritzville. Town of about 1700 surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of "big-Ag" wheat farms. A town with three failing water wells, proven leaking water distribution system, and a struggling sewer infrastructure. A town that increased the number of residents living below the poverty level exceeding 25% in 2011! The town's "ruling class" biggest concern is promoting a new "Wheat Museum" and promoting "growth for prosperity".
Does something seem out of balance to you?
There's a new, grass-roots movement afoot in Ritzville. One that can address many of the stagnant "business as usual" approaches to being a "community". It's called "Grow Ritzville!" and the "grow" part is directly aimed at healthy, local, pesticide/insecticide/commercial fertilizer free food production. All this based on Permaculture ideals, concepts, and techniques.
An excerpt from the new web site:
The mission of Grow Ritzville! Is to foster a powerful self- directed movement within the community of Ritzville that engages residents through education and hands on experience to grow their own affordable organic produce thereby increasing nutritional wealth, education and emotional prosperity.
Grow Ritzville! is a collective of private land owners who seek to transform their own properties by drawing from the principals of permaculture and applying expertise in three areas:
- Social Action
Check it out! Your comments, ideas, and even well-intended criticisms are welcome! = )
We also received much appreciated attention from the local Ritzville-Adams County Journal last week in the form of an extensive article outlining the Grow Ritzville! project. Although the actual Journal article is password protected on their site, Stephen has given me permission to post the article on appropriate Permaculture sites. So here is the text from the Journal's website (Ritzville Journal):
Grow Ritzville! Urban garden concept sprouts in rural community
By Stephen McFadden• Thu, Apr 19, 2012Thu, Apr 19, 2012
Dryland wheat country may soon enjoy an influx of locally raised organic fruits and vegetables through a grassroots cooperative known as Grow Ritzville!
The theory for Grow Ritzville! was hatched several months ago, the brainchild of a relatively new member of the community. The result is a team of five core individuals working to bring the concept to fruition.
The first milestone is birth of a new website http://www.growritzville.com, mapping out the mission of the fledgling effort and the outcomes these founders expect to achieve.
Several residential properties within the city of Ritzville play host to raised bed gardens this spring, as Grow Ritzville! cultivates its first planting effort. The products of these raised bed gardens are sold through a local farm store stand.
At the core of the group’s mission is an effort to work with families and individuals who would benefit from access to fresh foods but may not be able to afford them.
“Grow Ritzville! welcomes volunteers to come be a part of this fun and enjoyable process and in exchange eat the food you grow,” the website beckons.
Sustainable, organic community gardens are rapidly expanding endeavors in urban communities. Major cities in Eastern and Western Washington have had successful efforts on small and large scales for many years. More than 300 gathered last November for the first Inland Northwest Permaculture Conference in Spokane.
The concepts Grow Ritzville! utilizes are not entirely new, but based on decades of practices implemented across the world.
The philosophy of permaculture is just one contributor to the local project. The advent of permaculture is traced to a pair of Australians in the 1970s. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren hatched the idea and have since ignited a worldwide movement. They have written and taught extensively on the idea that architecture, ecology and agriculture can be packaged cooperatively to generate a healthy, sustainable food source, even in crowded metropolitan communities.
At the center of Ritzville’s project is Sheila Grace. Grace became a property owner and landlord in Ritzville six years ago, relocating here last year. Since then she has identified an opportunity to create a food source project to benefit Ritzville’s residents, encourage commerce and do so in an environmentally friendly way.
“This project will educate, decrease food poverty, reduce water use, improve nutrition and create green jobs,” Grace said.
Grow Ritzville! represents the birth of her idea to find a healthy way to help those in need and spark commerce in a rural community.
With a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources from Cornell University, Grace found her way to Ritzville from New York via Seattle.
William Kearns is another “local” member of the team. He retired to Ritzville a few years ago from Seattle. He lives on a 20-acre parcel a few miles outside of the city. He purchased the property six years ago and has called the area home for two years. Kearns worked for Boeing for 31 years as a test engineer/project manager.
Kearns holds an engineering degree from Highline College. Today, he has become a student of permaculture.
“Permaculture is a gestalt ... a study of the whole. Not just how to produce more and better food, but how food production affects and is affected by the surrounding environment,” he said.
Utilizing the concepts of permaculture fit well with Grow Ritzville’s mission and desire to produce food without damaging the environment.
“It’s about living in concert with the earth as opposed to living in conflict with the earth,” Kearns said.
Kearns first met Grace during the Inland Northwest Permaculture Conference. Both were surprised to encounter a second person from Ritzville with an interest in the practice. It led to a new friendship and the pair working together on the Grow Ritzville! initiative.
They also have the support and services of an expert. Wendy Church of Seattle is Grace’s longtime friend. She holds impressive credentials including a PhD in bio resource engineering from Oregon State. She holds a masters of business administration from Kellogg School of Management.
Church has authored sustainability curriculum for K-12 schools and served as executive director of Facing the Future from 2003 until last year.
According to the Seattle based non-profit’s website, it develops core subject and interdisciplinary curriculum that promotes critical thinking and encourages students to become involved in their communities.
Ritzville is the perfect site for this project, Church said.
“You have all this ground, you can grow food, get people from the community involved, have participation from the kids and develop pride in the community,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
Church sees this as a massive learning opportunity for area children.
“The coolest thing is to see kids come back to a garden where they have planted something and bring their entire family,” Church said. “It’s massively powerful.”
The core group includes an area beekeeper, which provides the key component of pollination for the gardens.
Through the team effort the core group has sought guidance and support from a multitude of well-versed agencies and groups with a focus on sustainable food production.
Technical assistance is coming through the Washington State University Extension, Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild and the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network.
These entities are providing the background resources and education to ensure Grow Ritzville! identifies best practices for use of urban soil, organic farming and the elimination of pesticides in the gardens.
The Farm Store Stand, which ultimately serves as the retail outlet for the project, is being developed in accordance with the Washington State Department of Agriculture Small Farm and Direct Marketing Program.
Grace said the produce from the gardens would be available for participants in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infant & Children program (WIC) and Senior Vouchers.
A portion of the produce will be contributed to the Ritzville Food Pantry.
Grow Ritzville! has identified a socio-economic need for such a program in this region. Based on data gathered previously during the Horizons project, 28 percent of households in five-mile radius of Ritzville live at or below the poverty line in terms of household income.
Purchasing affordable organic produce requires an 84-mile round trip. The Grow Ritzville! project plans to raise, sell or distribute organic produce here, eliminating the distance and fuel expense.
The climate and conditions in Ritzville, Grace explained, have helped to dictate the need for raised bed gardening techniques.
According to Grow Ritzville! the PH of the water is non-conducive to intensive farming. Average rainfalls of 10 inches complicates traditional produce production methods.
Through the use of raised beds Grow Ritzville! establishes healthy soil, which results in increased yields and reduced water consumption.
The local Ritzville Starbucks store is contributing to the process. The company is donating its used coffee grounds, more than 400 pounds by the first of April. The acidity in the coffee grounds, and other properties, make it the perfect ingredient to enhance the soil in the raised beds.
The first year
What happens next is a hectic list of activities. One focus is educationing the community of the Grow Ritzville! initiative. Additionally the operation intends to document and quantify the annual results of the project, both in terms of the volume of produce generated and distributed, and the overall level of community knowledge about such gardening efforts.
The group has prepared a survey that is to be circulated throughout the community in the coming weeks. The data gathered from the survey helps to establish a baseline of the community’s awareness of gardening, as well as indicate how interested consumers are in having local access to organic produce.
Grace said the goal is to survey 500 residents.
A follow up survey is planned to be sent at the conclusion of the project’s first year of production.
The project team will also record the volume of fruits and vegetables raised throughout the growing season. Grace is determined to establish quantifiable data to validate the success of the effort.
The current tasks at hand also focus on the preparation for planting and growing. Grace said several private property owners in Ritzville will have raised beds on their property, as many as 30 could be utilized this year.
Toward the end of this month, the group plans to construct hoop houses to provide better control and protection from changing weather patterns, which extends the growing season for some foods.
A diverse selection of produce is expected to be grown. Grace said organic seeds for 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers have been gathered.
The group is also raising red wriggler worms, which are used to strengthen the soil of the raised bed environments.
Grace looks to have Grow Ritzville! become a federally recognized non-profit organization, which clears the way for the group to seek grant and philanthropic funding from a multitude of sources currently supporting similar projects.
“Ritzville has all the demographics to capture every positive resource from what is a national movement,” Grace said.
The grassroots effort is launching without outside funding, aiming to establish itself as a successful endeavor before seeking grant funding for the expansion of the effort.
Church believes this Ritzville project could evolve into something larger.
“If handled properly, everyone in town will benefit from this,” Church said. “This is a pilot for similar sized towns, packaged so well that it could become an example for other towns.”
With the right amount of growth, the Grow Ritzville! project is expected to create jobs, thus providing new wage earning opportunities in the years that come.
Join the effort
There is room for others to become a part of the process. And there are a variety of ways to participate.
Those who want to volunteer can visit the website and complete the volunteer form. The forms can be dropped off at the Ritzville Area Chamber of Commerce or the Ritzville Food Pantry.
For additional information about the project, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
The group does have a need for some materials during this inaugural launch of the gardens.
Grace said they are looking for eight-foot 2x6 lumber, old hay or straw, used tomato cages and used garden hoses.
Those items can be dropped off at 607 West First Avenue. In the future, Grace plans to convert that home into the group’s Farm Store Stand. — Ritzville Journal
If you find someone willing to deliver a few dump truck loads of clay to Springdale, let me know I've got a few projects in desperate need of clay. Even if It has to be hauled in, it's got to be cheaper than cement.
Bill Kearns wrote:Thanks Ernie, that's a great idea. I'll pose the question and see if we can get a group of folks interested in a rocket mass heater seminar. Frugal heating with a RMH seems like a no-brainer for this area. (I'm also in an ongoing hunt for locally available clay to make it all possible)