While Central Food, on West Central’s south side, sits high on the bluff above the Spokane River and offers its diners some stunning city views, a glance in the opposite direction reveals thickets of wood-frame homes, some empty and some not, vacant lots and the beginnings of a long, uphill slope. The teenagers in West Central know about uphill battles, but they also know something about those vacant lots — they don’t have to stay empty.
This past summer more than two dozen West Central residents between the ages of 11 and 18 have worked as members of the Green Collar Job Corps. Some work on Riverfront Farm, an urban farm made up of seven formerly vacant lots scattered across West Central. Others work the Riverfront Farm booth at the West Central Farmers Market in Cannon Park, as well as the South Perry Market. These employees, and those on the neighborhood lawn care team, all learn job skills and gain work experience provided through Project Hope Spokane, a community-based initiative that seeks to provide youth with the skills, attitude and values necessary to ensure adult success.
Bakari Green, the 15-year-old sophomore class president at North Central and a Green Collar Job Corps youth leader, has been interested in leadership roles almost as long as he’s been interested in working hard.
“When I was in sixth grade I found out about this program, learned more about it, and I got really excited for the program because it was the first chance I had to get a real job,” he says.
For the past four growing seasons Green has worked on the farm, pulling weeds, planting seeds and harvesting. This fall and winter he’ll be part of the team that puts the beds to sleep, puts in garlic starts and works the market as well as the “super-small greenhouse.”
His eating habits have changed a bit since he began the program.
“I made the mistake of coming in with a candy bar and the adult leader didn’t hesitate to jump on that and give me a veggie lecture,” says Green.
He eats more vegetables and has learned how to cook up zucchini omelets. Each Friday evening during the summer, Green Corps employees have the opportunity to learn to cook at Holy Trinity’s commercial kitchen. These kinds of experiences are helpful to people like 16-year-old Sylina Alton, a Green Corps worker who plans to someday open her own café. For now, though, she enjoys spending her summers outside at the market and the farm. She also likes how the farm lots improve the look of her neighborhood. When she sees other lots around town, she imagines that they would look better if they were “fluffy” with vegetation.
Patrick Mannhard, Operations Manager for Project Hope and a farmer himself, sees the practical as well as the aesthetic purpose of the lots.
“There’s a lot of vacant lots in West Central that need to get turned into mini-farms that need to start producing for the city,” he says.
Some of the lots are donated to Project Hope and the history of the soil can be questionable. The organization, with the help of Green Corps workers and donations, build raised beds, truck in fresh soil and get the lot ready for healthy crop production.
The teenagers who work this scattered farm travel to their assigned areas on bikes, but a recent bike theft has forced those with bikes to go out to distant locations, while those without stay closer to the organization’s base. But this latest challenge hasn’t prevented Riverfront Farm from hauling produce to markets and restaurants.
Chef David Blaine of Central Food has plans to make jams and desserts from the farm’s yellow and blue plums. Already, the farm’s garlic finds its way into several different items on his menu.
If you’ve enjoyed some of the super-local roasted garlic in Central Food’s artichoke pasta, you have some teenagers to thank. But you won’t have to go far to do that.
Project Hope Spokane is holding its annual fundraiser, Harvesting Hope, at 1428 W. Broadway on Sat, Sept. 14. Silent auction starts at 5:30 pm with dinner to follow. projecthopespokane.org • 703-7433