Introducing the Victory Garden Project!


By Katie Rains

After building nearly 3,000 gardens throughout the South Puget Sound over the past 20+years, I reckon most of you know a thing or two about the Kitchen Garden Project.  We partner with individuals, families, tribes, schools, organizations and businesses to build gardens so that our community can dig in together and grow good food.  Over the years, we’ve been asked hundreds of times, why don’t you use a screw gun to put these raised bed boxes together?  Couldn’t this be done more efficiently? The answer is simple.  By working together, side by side, as learners, builders & growers, slowly hammering away at each frame, our community grows together. And this is one important reason we are folding the Kitchen Garden Project and Victory Farmers into one more fertile and integrated program.  But the KGP has deep roots in community food security & veteran integration, and here at GRuB, we value honoring the past as much as we strive to cultivate a thriving future together with our community. 


“Work for Victory” by Joe Wirtheim,

“It has always been the American tradition to take care of yourself, but there are a lot of people who can’t, so I decided that if you give poor people a garden, you encourage them to help themselves. You give them something to do and you give them something to eat.” – Dan Barker, Viet Nam Veteran & Founder of the Home Gardening Project in Portland, Oregon. While my perspective on the value of gardens in community differs slightly from Dan’s, his work is what inspired Rich & Maria Doss to found the Kitchen Garden Project in the South Sound in 1993.  Rich was a student at Evergreen State College at that time, and after spending a summer learning and working with Dan in Portland, he brought the gift of free gardens to Olympia.  For 7 years, he toiled and shoveled and put a lot of miles on a little green truck that hauled soil over the South Sound and under his leadership, the Kitchen Garden Project built nearly 1,500 gardens in just 7 years. It was a labor of love. And while it truly was an act of love, it was also truly an act of rigorous labor.  Shoveling 2 yards of soil, which is what we bring with us to build each set of raised bed gardens, leaves my body sore for at least 2 days after my first build each spring!  In 2000, Rich contacted Blue and asked if he and Kim would assume leadership of the KGP in exchange for the non-profit status that he’d secured.  They said yes, and the deal was sealed in 2001 when we merged programs and became GRuB.  We have continued to build gardens throughout the South Sound, though we’ve slowed the pace just a bit and now build 50-100 each year. Every garden continues to be a labor of love.

Poverty is complex. I am no stranger to it.  My parents divorced when I was 5 and my single mom and I moved to Yakima where she worked hard to keep us housed and fed and we both made it through school.  It wasn’t easy for either of us, but you would never know that by looking at me.  Just like you can never know where someone has been, or what they have been through, or all of their many gifts just by looking at them.  So it is with the individuals and families we’ve partnered with over the years.  For four years before GRuB hired me, my favorite way to engage with GRuB was by volunteering to build gardens.  Some builds forged special connections, and alongside gardeners, we shared stories & gardening tips & recipes as we labored away together. Sometimes folks even prepared us a lunch or lemonade or some other sweet gesture of reciprocity. But some builds felt… awkward.  At a few builds, I could not shake the suspicion that my presence was making the family that we were building a garden with uncomfortable. At that time, I didn’t have the courage or community organizing skills to ask, but I sensed that they feared my judgement and that they were counting the seconds until we had finished the build so they could take in and celebrate their garden in peace and comfort.  While these types of builds were infrequent, they happened, and they made me wonder.  We have a guideline at GRuB, to notice intent versus impact.  While my intentions were good, me, an able-bodied white woman with a college education and desire to lend my time and labor to help our community, was showing up at the home of families with limited incomes, some of whom were having a tough time (because again, poverty is complex and makes all kinds of things more difficult) and back then, I lacked the guts and skills to acknowledge that my presence sometimes impacted folks negatively, fostering more self doubt, fear and a sense of being intruded upon.  I am infinitely grateful to all of the families who’ve allowed me to come to their home to help build a garden.  For those of you who might read this, I can assure you that allowing me to be a helper, opening your space to me and letting me witness your excitement to grow your own food was a much greater gift to me than the 4 hours that I gave to you. Thank you for those gifts.

image02In 2014,  I was approached by the then boyfriend of one of my former roller derby league mates.  His name was Mark.  He was a veteran and he was struggling to find his place in community after serving many tours in war.  He had an opportunity to do a several month fellowship and to give us 20 hours of his time each week.  He was interested in GRuB School, but truthfully, we were short staffed in the Kitchen Garden Project and I am a sucker for legacies. I could not forget Dan Barker’s legacy of service in community and I hoped that we might forge meaningful connection by bringing veteran service into the KGP.  He went for it and participated in builds all spring, after which he recruited more veterans and they launched an extra fall build season.  We built 13 more gardens with families that fall, and a team of veterans picked up the torch of the labor of love that is garden building.  Over the past 3 years, we’ve received feedback from several gardeners that they’ve felt comfortable with the veterans who’ve come to their homes; that there’s some understanding of a common struggle. The root causes are different, but the need to dig deep within to overcome what sometimes feel like insurmountable barriers; that’s the same.  The need to be supported by community to do so; that’s the same. “People are amazing and responding as best they can in the war zone of poverty,”  Dr. Donna Beegle.  People are amazing.  And resilience can only be known in the face of adversity.  People who’ve experienced poverty, veterans, people who’ve experienced trauma & oppression, young people & elders – these are the people we need to learn from and listen to.  These are the people in our community who have the skills and experience to develop solutions that will create a thriving and resilient community.

“The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” ― Howard Zinn

We are folding the Kitchen Garden Project and Victory Farmers programs in on each other because we believe that we can best inspire positive personal and community change by building resilient networks of mutual support among diverse people.  We believe that it is time to defy all that is bad around us – hunger, poverty, chronic disease, depression, loneliness and more – by living together as a community as we think human beings deserve to live – in service, in connection, with curiosity about differences and with appreciation for the land and food that sustains us all. Together, lettuce work for this victory!

Learn more about Dan Barker and his inspiration for the Home Gardening Project here