On Saturday, Sept. 8, Wasatch Community Gardens held their 20th Annual Tomato Sandwich Festival at the Grateful Tomato Garden. The festival is an opportunity for the Salt Lake City community to come together to eat freshly made tomato sandwiches, listen to local musicians and learn about gardening.
Salt Lake Community College student volunteers helped to make this year’s festival a tasty experience for the local residents.
“My role today here was slicing up tomatoes and introducing what the different types of tomatoes are,” says Billy Walker, a Salt Lake Community College student and member of Thayne Center’s Students Leadership in Civic Engagement (SLICE).
SLCC’s Thayne Center automatically partners with non-profit organizations in the Salt Lake City community.
It is through the partnership with Wasatch Community Gardens that Walker became a volunteer at this year’s tomato festival.
Members of the community wandered into the gardens on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon and found students that were willing to answer any questions guests may have about gardening. Guests could also take home free produce seeds.
“We get a lot of donated seeds. That is what we are giving away today,” says Ashley Patterson, executive director of Wasatch Community Gardens, pointing towards a large collection of seeds. “We have a policy where we look at who the seed provider is to ensure that it is GMO free.”
GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a controversial form of genetically modifying a seed in a lab to help produce a higher crop yield.
Near the large collection of donated seeds around the corner of a greenhouse Patterson helped build, students like Walker stood for three hours at a long row of tables covered in bread, containers full of freshly grown, organic heirloom tomatoes and homemade pesto making sandwiches for anyone who was willing to stand in line for a few minutes.
“There is an assembly line where students are in line, and they actually give the public a sandwich,” said Linnie Spor, service leadership coordinator with the Thayne Center.
In a corner of the garden called the Youth Garden, there was a small tent set up where children from the community could design and make buttons or have their faces painted by volunteers.
The Grateful Tomato Garden is partially an educational forum to teach school children about gardening.
“We have summer camps, after school programs and field trips. Each class, the kids usually can make a snack out of anything we have been growing,” said Patterson. “Then they can take home anything left over that we have picked. Whatever is left over, we donate to local food pantries.”
The other part of the garden is community plots where local resident can pay a small yearly fee to cover watering costs and grow their own produce in an urban center.