Nestled in the center of the quaint town of Dupont sits the Dupont Community Garden, robust with vegetables of all kinds and sunflowers towering over eight feet high.
What once began at the Intel property is now located midway down Center Drive toward Steilacoom-Dupont Road. Unless you know your way around Dupont and know where to turn, it would be easy to miss. Follow the clearly marked sign down the gravel dirt road to the sprawling garden.
The idea formed in 2008 when Intel was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Stu Vannerson, a manager at Intel at the time, recalls a challenge given to the employees. “The president challenged all of the employees worldwide to donate a million hours of community service to the communities they were a part of,” he said.
With a big challenge ahead of them, Vannerson began having conversations with departments and found out that many of the volunteer projects employees were completing were agriculture related. “I stared out at the Intel property and saw all this unused land and thought, ‘We don’t have to drive 30 miles away to volunteer. We could grow food for the food banks right here on the Intel property!’”
In 2009, the concept became a reality with five garden beds and an overhead sprinkler. “It was a small harvest,” Vannerson said, “but enough proof of concept that employees wanted to do this kind of thing.”
Those first couple years they saw much growth and interest within the company, so the following year they built 22 beds total. Different departments participated in a way that all food was going to the local food banks. “The facilities management people at Intel knew our vision was to let people in the town rent a bed with the agreement that people should plant twice as much as they need and to donate half to the food banks,” said Vannerson. They had increased to 45 beds with half of the participation being from the community.
In 2014, Intel closed and sold their Dupont property. It was at that time that Vannerson and his fellow gardener management team started a conversation with the Dupont city officials to look at different patches of land owned by the city. “This one seemed the most feasible,” he said. “It’s ironic that it’s less than a mile from its old location.” Over the course of two months, he – along with the many employees and community gardeners – moved 80 raised beds, 300 pounds of topsoil, and two greenhouses that had to be taken out of the ground and set in concrete. “It was quite a production,” he recalls.
The Dupont Community Garden continues its mission to support the community by providing produce to two local food banks, Nourish Pierce County (formerly FISH Food Bank) and the Thurston County Food Bank. “A typical year is 6 or 7 thousand pounds of food harvested with most of that, over 80 percent, going to the food banks,” Vannerson said proudly. “People plant more than they can eat so the donation rate is pretty high. We have a few beds that are exclusively for food bank donations. Food banks are a vital part of a community. It’s not just helping feed people who are hungry. It’s an important way for people who aren’t food secure to be able to depend on something. The underserved in the community don’t have access to good quality food. It might be a high calorie food, but not nutritious so having fruits and vegetables as part of their diet is a really important thing.”
With over 50 families holding plots, working together and getting to know the community members is made easy with work parties. “We ask that each gardener donate half of what they grow and commit to working communal tasks like a delivery to the food bank,” Vannerson said.
Gardeners are required to work at least two hours a month on the community gardens. This is made easy during the monthly work parties held the first Saturday of the month where all gardeners are encouraged to complete communal tasks. As a Dupont resident with a garden plot of my own, I can attest that pulling weeds and watering vegetables alongside community members builds camaraderie.
For those interested in purchasing a plot or taking a tour of the garden can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.