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Petaluma Bounty farm honors MLK with day of service

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Suzi Grady is trying to avoid puns these days, but when the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. collide with volunteerism on a farm, it’s hard for her not to.

Petaluma Bounty, the community farm dedicated to creating self-sustaining food for low-income consumers, hosted a day of service on Monday as an offshoot of the national initiative to make MLK Day a “day on,” rather than a day off. In 1994, Congress designated the federal holiday as a nationwide day of service.

As Bounty’s program director, Grady sees the holiday as a chance to not only recruit new volunteers, but to spread a message of equality through the humility that comes from laboring in a field with strangers from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

Unfortunately, using a pun is the best way Grady can describe that sentiment.

“We’re planting the seed for deeper conversations about what we need to do as a community to address things that relate to poverty, racism, discrimination — even within our own neighborhoods and families,” she said. “We meet people where they’re at. We don’t try to force some of these harder conversations, but we invite them to consider it.”

About 50 volunteers were expected to shuffle in throughout the day, said Kaleigh Spollen, Bounty’s education and engagement coordinator.

Some, like Casa Grande High School freshman Maile Hill, came to earn some volunteer hours for her human interactions course.

Others, like Gwen Marinozzi, came with her employer Williams-Sonoma for a day of corporate team-building. And then there were a few workers like her son, Caden Marinozzi, that didn’t really have much of choice.

The three of them washed hundreds of reusable pots that will be used at the Bounty’s farm stand in the spring. They talked about King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech while they worked, and later observed a moment of silence with the rest of the helpers.

“It feels good to give back,” Gwen Marinozzi said.

Monday was Bounty’s first volunteer day of the year, which meant most of the work was foundational, using the influx of hands to complete a lot of the initial dirty work that leads to a bountiful harvest, Spollen said.

The community garden where Petaluma residents are invited to plant and harvest their own produce was cleared out and prepped for a new year. The farm stand was also cleaned and reset.

Mulch was laid throughout the grounds and, once the organic waste had been removed from the orchard, wood chips were spread along the grove of fruit trees.

Efforts to disrupt weed growth and ensure the farm functions without herbicides were undertaken. With a small operation and low overhead costs, Bounty abstains from using chemicals, Grady said.

The ground was still soft from last week’s storms, and large puddles filled the access road to the farm on Shasta Avenue. Still, blue skies and warm sun made the work easier.

“We could not have asked for better weather,” Spollen said.

For Grady, the hope for the annual day of service is to combine the values of Petaluma with a message that aligns with continued progress.

“With so much intense and negative news going on with climate change and the negative impacts of globalization and the resurgence of us-versus-them thinking, this is a way to come together and affect change in small incremental steps,” Grady said. “We really want to grow peoples’ appetites for these conversations, and know that there’s hope and positive outlets for these larger-than-our-generation’s issues.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)