Urban Neighbors Build a Community Garden


About two months ago, Wes contacted a photography school in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood about converting a corner plot of their overgrown land into a community vegetable garden.  An executive quickly responded.  She told Wes that she would be happy to see the seemingly abandoned space turned into something useful.  Although she was unable to provide any funding, the school’s garden tools were offered freely.

Through an urban farm organization with whom he had volunteered, Wes put out the word that he was looking for a few fellow volunteers to help him build.  Several eager neighbors replied promptly.  JP and I were some of them.

The three of us and a couple others met at the ivy-strangled site.  We showed up with gloves, machetes, clippers, shovels, a pick, and anything that we thought would help us eradicate the plants.  At first the job was daunting.  Spending a couple hours, sweating and sunburning on a blistery Saturday afternoon, we had barely made a mark.  But we persevered.

Over the course of a month, JP, Wes, and I sent e-mails, made various arrangements, and met at the site.  Sometimes there were only two of us, sometimes only one.  We didn’t always know what we were doing and sometimes the only plan we had was to keep going.

One Sunday morning, JP and I borrowed a rototiller from a member of Alleycat Acres, the urban farming organization with whom we had all volunteered.  After getting a quick demonstration on how to use it, we roared it up and began churning.  Soon the sky darkened and rain started dumping.  Mud flung up onto our pants; our shoes were no longer recognizable beneath the gloopy dirt.  At one point, a man in a truck stopped and asked if he could buy our services.  When I told him that we did this for fun, that we weren’t professionals, he looked at us like a math problem.  The rototiller, the untamed beast, took much energy out of us.  We removed our jackets just to cool off despite getting more and more drenched.  With our hair dripping, our bodies soaked, we both laughed and agreed that this was fun.

Soon the lot started to look more intentional and less abandoned.  Neighbors walked by, smiling, telling us how wonderful it was to see people doing something with the place.  One neighbor mentioned how the corner had been an eyesore in an otherwise well-gardened neighborhood.  Another neighbor allowed us the use of her tools whenever we wanted, stopping to talk about what she was doing in her own yard.

Last week, JP and Wes trucked in some donated Groco compost.  On the following Sunday, JP blazed through the soil with the rototiller, mixing the organic material at lightning-fast speed.  Afterward, the three of us, and later another man, created an edge using burlap coffee sacks from a nearby Stumptown and recycled concrete from a former driveway.

Wes has been getting offers from more people who are interested in obtaining a bed.  While we’ve been clearing and building on a spot that is about 24 feet by 10 feet, there is still much more land available.  As more neighbors turn out, the larger the garden will become.

For now, we have three beds.  Today JP planted the first vegetable, a tomato, followed by zucchini and more tomatoes.  Now that we have begun putting food into the ground, we’ve already started discussing the harvest party.  Zucchini bread, anyone?