Businesses and Volunteers Support Garden That Feeds the Hungry

Terry Smith is former President and CEO of Smith Gardens, which donated a greenhouse to the Food Share & Farm program.

American Canadian Fisheries and Smith Gardens support Christ the King Church-Bellingham’s Food Share & Farm ministry—and in doing so, provide nourishing food to many needy Whatcom County residents.

American-Canadian is a Bellingham wholesale provider of fish products and specialty items. About 10 years ago, Andy Vitaljic, company founder, and his wife, Erin, began contributing fish on a weekly basis to the church’s food bank, making it possible for needy people to have protein. Last year, the couple donated 21,000 pounds of fish to Food Share, he said, adding that they’ve also donated millions of meals to food banks in other parts of the United States.

The 10-acre Food Share site is located at 6069 Hannegan Road, on land owned by Hannegan Properties, a subsidiary of American Canadian. Church members and staff cultivate vegetables and sweet corn there. “The other day, there were 14 volunteers here working in the rain,” said Vitaljic, who was the 2018 recipient of Business Pulse’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s just amazing the amount of people who care about feeding hungry people.”

Andy wanted it noted that his sister, JoAnn Nelson, co-managed the farm before her unexpected death on March 29. He said she often worked alongside the volunteers in the Food Share gardens.

In April, Smith Gardens donated a 146-by 21-foot greenhouse to the program—dedicated to Nelson, according to Food Share & Farm Director Faith Whaley. “We call it JoAnn’s greenhouse! We’ll be growing tomatoes in it this year,” she said.

Terry Smith, former President and Chairman of Bellingham-based Smith Gardens, says his company is a family business. His grandfather established Smith Gardens in 1901 as a truck farm, selling vegetables to markets around Whatcom County. Today, the fourth generation owns and operates the commercial floral-cultural business, with four growing operations that include the original Bellingham location.

“The other day, there were 14 volunteers here working in the rain. It’s just amazing the amount of people who care about feeding hungry people.”
–Andy Vitaljic, founder, American Canadian Fisheries

Smith said his involvement with Food Share & Farm transports him back to his roots. Its support includes donations of pots, starter trays, seeds, and many hours of encouragement, he said. Smith was the 2015 winner of Business Pulse’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“As a family business, we believe that being generous is another way of expressing to God our gratefulness for his many blessings,” he said.

In years past, the vegetable plants were started at Smith Gardens in Bellingham and transported to the Hannegan site as plugs. Through the dedicated work of many, Smith said, the garden produced 75,000 pounds of fresh vegetables in 2018. This year, all plants are being grown at the Hannegan property to make Food Share more self-sufficient, Smith said. Smith Gardens will continue to support the program with materials for growing the plants.

The work of planting, weeding, and delivery is done by volunteers, who toil in rain and sunshine, in addition to volunteers who help administrate the program. Up to 3,000 pounds of produce is distributed weekly during harvest season, according to the Christ the King website.

Faith Whaley says that foodstuffs are donated to 17 organizations, including food banks, shelters, senior centers, the Salvation Army, and Boys & Girls clubs. The church also serves as a satellite distribution center for the Bellingham Food Bank on Tuesdays and partners with the Foothills Food Bank in Kendall. Other contributors to Food Share are the Bellingham Grocery Outlet, Barlean’s Health Supplements, and Franz Bakery.

“Our purpose is to use food to bring hope to the community,” Whaley said. “We would love to grow more and to partner with more businesses to meet the hunger needs in the community.”

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