The nearly 200 Girl Scout troop members and their families who arrived at the Food Bank Farm in Maltby on Oct. 8 were expecting to harvest bulbous, bulky squash.

Instead, they spent that Sunday picking corn and ripping the stripped stalks out from the ground. Such is farm life, said Maltby Girl Scout Troop 43038 leader Debby Seaney. It was before the rain rolled in. 

Her group has organized the annual volunteer harvesting event for about half a decade, when the first seeds were sown on the property. Usually, about 75 people show up to do the day of dirty work. This year, she was shocked when attendance more than doubled.

“It hit critical mass this year,” said Redmond’s Holy Cross Episcopal Church Rev. Jim Eichner.

The rector got the farm going nearly a decade ago. He came up with the idea while volunteering at the New Hope Baptist Church’s Clean Greens Farm in Duvall, which has a similar format to the Food Bank Farm.

Eichner started the operation so community members in need have access to nutritious meals. About 5,552 volunteers have signed up since the beginning, including employees from companies that include Microsoft, Liberty Mutual Insurance, United Way of King County and Nordstroms. Together, they helped reach the 700,000-pound mark this year.

Roughly 2.8 million servings, or $1 million worth of food has been distributed throughout the state since 2011.

Volunteers have kept Eichner’s farm running. It would be next to impossible to produce even close to the hauls harvested without their help. The assistance also keeps costs incredibly low. This year, 180,000 pounds were grown on the farm for $11,000, or close to 5 cents per pound, he said.

“If I had to pay wages for all the harvest help and machinery required, it would probably make this prohibitive,” Eichner said.

Seaney’s Girl Scouts were some of the very first to lend Eichner a hand.

Seaney, who attends Eichner’s church, and her scouts had also worked with him at Clean Greens Farm in 2009. They offered to help glean at the new site the first year. 

“I have got a picture on my wall of those Girl Scouts who came out; they were so young, you know, they were Brownies,” Eichner said. “They have got these innocent little smiles on their faces, sitting in back of a pickup truck with big, warty squashes.”

Eichner said even then the troop members were able to understand the work they were doing would better the lives of families in their community.

One of Seaney’s troop members Isabel Frederick said it has been a hard but rewarding experience. It is exciting to see so many people come out to an event she and her friends worked so hard to organize. She said it is also a place where troops can meet on common ground and get to know each other better.

Frederick, who is now 14 years old, started working on the farm when she was in elementary school. She said being in Girl Scouts has helped her improve on her leadership and social skills. She said it is also a great place to bond and grow with others.

That first autumn, she and her friends were some of the 12 volunteers who pulled 3,750 pounds of food from the earth, according to Food Bank Farm. The yield equated to nearly 5,000 servings, or $5,625 of fresh produce for families who visited local food banks.

Eichner rents a plot from Chinook Farms, which is a 132-acre, community-supported farm located on Elliott Road in the Cathcart area. He has been given a good rate by the owners, Eric and Sharon Fritch, who also let him use their equipment.

“Our partnership with the Food Bank Farm is invaluable to us as we work to end hunger in Western Washington,” said Food Lifeline’s director of food resources Amythst Shipman in a news release. “Thousands of hungry people are fed each year from the produce donated from the farm.”

The aim of the farm is to end hunger in the Pacific Northwest, according to the Food Bank Farm. By 2021 the hope is that one million pounds will have been supplied to regional food banks. Eichner said hundreds of Washington’s food banks have access to the fresh produce because of partnerships with organizations like Hopelink and Food Lifeline.

The Girl Scouts have helped out with different parts of production over the years. Together they decided to use their money fundraised through the annual Girl Scout Cookie Program to purchase seeds each year, Seaney said.

She said few opportunities exist anymore for troops to see a project through like this. Eichner said Seaney has always done a good job at connecting her Girl Scouts with projects that help them see the importance of contributing to their community.

Frederick said working at the Food Bank Farm has given her a chance to learn how to grow her own food. She also notices the difference in taste with freshly picked produce compared to what she buys at the grocery store.

Eichner said it has been great to watch the younger volunteers come back year after year. They have their own moments of discovery and learning while getting their hands dirty.

“I love watching kids light up like that when they are out in the field,” he said.