Three women hoist loads of dirt into a wheelbarrow; another man pounds together a frame. Laughter, sweat, and encouragement are the themes of the afternoon.
The team is building a garden bed for GRuB’s (Garden-Raised Bounty) May There be Gardens event, which takes place every May. Volunteers work together to build raised garden beds for families who qualify for assistance as part of The Victory Garden Project. GRuB, a nonprofit, provides all the materials, including trellises, and healthy green starts. Because of this program, nearly 3,000 gardens have been built throughout the South Puget Sound over the past 20 years.
Katie Rains ’08 is GRuB’s executive director, and you can find her at most of GRuB’s volunteer and community events, getting her hands dirty, shining her light among the groups she visits.
“On any given day, I might find myself arranging flowers with our youth crew, facilitating community meetings, leading a food system coalition, hosting donors, doing chores around the farmhouse (yep, even executive directors wash dishes!) or drafting new policies and procedures to support GRuB's work in the years to come,” she says.
GRuB focuses on involving all people in their work, especially veterans and youth, offering programming and opportunities at area schools, on the farm, and in the community.
“Bringing people together around food is a simple way that we use the present moment to cultivate a victory worth celebrating,” says Rains. “On the farm, in the garden, in the kitchen or at the table, we connect people across differences in each of our programs and in doing so, we have opportunities to listen deeply, to make space for compassion, and to foster meaningful relationships that are essential for human resilience.”
Rains transferred to Evergreen for her final year of earning her bachelor’s degree. She had “hit a wall” at the University of Washington and was struggling to find meaning in her education.
“I was jumping through all of the hoops for my degree, but realized that I wasn't really directing my education,” she says. “When I came to Evergreen I wanted to start driving my college experience more fully, honing in on food systems and community organizing. I enrolled in the yearlong program ‘The Practice of Community’ taught by Joe Tougas and Marja Eloheimo. Our coursework ranged from philosophy to ethnobotany to nature journaling. During fall quarter, our class attended a field trip to GRuB and I got all the doe-eyed, warm and fuzzy feelings. I started doing drop-in farm volunteer hours and I participated in one garden build the following spring. And that was it, I was hooked!”
Now, Rains is growing more than food. She’s growing community, programming, and awareness. She recently spoke at the Food Tank: The Food Think Tank Summit in Seattle and will continue to be an ambassador for food justice.
“I love witnessing or helping people realize what they have to offer—their talents, gifts, passions—and creating opportunities for them to share those gifts with the world,” she says. “I get to experience this with folks in our programs, with volunteers, and with donors. I believe it is possible to live in a world where people are purposefully and lovingly growing together, and I am honored to be part of fostering that world at GRuB.”
She credits much of her strengths as an executive director of a nonprofit to skills she learned at Evergreen, especially in seminar.
“As much as the content of my program was totally relevant to the work I do today, having a low-stakes space to practice discernment, diplomacy, respectful dialogue, and even respectful disagreement, was one of the most valuable aspects of my Evergreen education,” she says. “The rest I could have gotten in books, but I use these skills daily.”
Rains offers advice to Evergreen students interested in organic farming or community service:
“Whatever it is that sparks your curiosity, your joy, your passion—go do that! Augment your education while you're still in school by getting your hands dirty, so to speak, by volunteering with a local farm or organization that resonates with you. There is absolutely no substitute for experience, and building relationships with people who are doing the work you love, or think you might love, will give you some of the best insight about it.”