“I grew up knowing the importance of small farms and growing good food,” she says, “and for most of my life, having good food was not a challenge.
“But, after my husband passed away, I struggled to provide food for my young sons. It was then that I began to depend on my local parish community and friends to help me to get through those difficult times.”
Swenson, now a Woodinville resident, wants to give back to others by using her life’s experience and education as a way to support families that want greater access to organically grown food.
To this aim, she founded Abundancia, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to celebrating and learning how to grow and preserve good food.
“Our mission,” explains the local woman, “is to tackle today’s challenges with optimism, to create the new structure for local community resilience, one garden at a time.”
Swenson, who is an admissions counselor for the School of Education at Antioch University and a graduate student in environmental and community permaculture, began to research avenues that would allow for greater access to local food sources.
This past summer, she received a fourth of an acre of land at the Sammamish Valley Grange and $1,000 start-up money for Abundancia’s Sharecroppers Garden.
“We’re going to grow all sorts of organic produce,” says Swenson, “and all of the product will be free to anyone who comes and helps at the farm or who participates in any of our events.”
She adds: “My plan is to create an active outdoor lab for the community and the goal is to grow good food and give it away.”
Swenson explains that she is not interested in the demographics of who comes to the garden, as it is open to anyone. What does interest her, however, is what people do with the food. She wants to know how they use it or if they trade it, or take it to the farmer’s market.
“I’m interested in this whole idea of how communities create systems to survive,” she comments.
At present, the organization is getting the word out about its activities through Facebook, attracting folks from all sectors of society.
At its first event, a free community feast with produce donated by the Root Connection and prepared by participants, nearly 40 people attended. There were students from Cascadia Community College, UW Bothell, Antioch and Simon Fraser University, along with employees of Boeing, Microsoft and Google and a number of local residents.
“We’re slowly getting the word out and the response has been extremely positive” says Swenson. “We’re getting kids involved, too. A sixth grade class came out several months ago on a field trip to help spread ground cover for the winter, using the opportunity to work on math skills as they plotted the spread and the yield.”
Every two weeks, the organization holds a work party at the garden and once a month there’s a special event such as a movie night, workshop or presentation.
Swenson chose the Woodinville area as the location for the Sharecroppers Garden because of her strong feelings for the Sammamish Valley.
“I love the valley,” she comments. “It’s like my home in Louisiana. I feel connected to it and I am dedicated to this community.”
She adds, “I see the Sharecroppers Garden develop as an informal education site and community development model that can be duplicated in multiple locations.
“Although, we are in the start-up phase, I hope for years and years to come that families and individuals will come to the garden and learn, create and teach each other sustainable life skills.”
For more information about Abundancia, call (425) 419-4443 or visit www.facebook.com/abundanciagardens.