Have you stumbled on a P-Patch community garden in your neighborhood? These beehives of gardening and community populate every corner of Seattle. Both the gardens and the people are as diverse as the neighborhoods they serve. From sprawling production farms to tiny lots, each provides a green respite, an open and interactive space. To those with less access to yards and green space, such as renters and immigrant communities, community gardens are especially important.
Visit a P-Patch work party for a taste of how the 3,000 families in 89 gardens throughout Seattle steward their gardens. Flowers from perennial beds enliven a local senior center, a pizza oven fires up for the after-party. Gardeners scrub the composting toilet, harvest a plot for food banks, plant a pollinator patch to sustain garden allies and always share food. Watch troupes of small children march to their P-Patch, learning about the planet and volunteerism. Join office workers enjoying a lunchtime respite. Check out the Emergency Hub sign: In a disaster, P-Patches are gathering spaces. Notice scores of seniors, staying limber tending their neighborhood space. P-Patch is so much more than gardening.
Despite such success, Seattle’s P-Patch program faces uncertainty. Despite continued demand, 2015 saw the last new P-Patch. Predictably, development pressures many gardens. However, a funding proposal tucked into Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2020 budget would help, but it will need the support of the community and City Council. It targets $3 million from the Sweetened Beverage Tax for deferred maintenance needs and garden relocation assistance.
Regarded originally as temporary uses, P-Patches activate neglected places. Several started as problematic street rights of way. The Interbay P-Patch started as a good use of a capped landfill.
Slowly, consistent city support and patient, dedicated gardeners grew a program. Equity was an early value. Almost 20% of P-Patches are associated with the New Holly, Rainier Vista, High Point and Yesler communities, providing gardening regardless of personal resources. Laotian families arriving in the ’80s found home and community in Greater Duwamish’s Thistle, Snoqualmie and Maa Nyei Lai Ndeic P-Patches. A drive to increase accessibility inspired P-Patchers to revamp paths, plots and common areas for the differently abled. Sharing the bounty, P-Patchers donate fresh organic produce to food banks and hot-meal programs — 17 tons in 2018.
P-Patches helped the city respect its public spaces. Faced with losing Bradner P-Patch in the mid-’90s, gardeners aided the campaign for Initiative 42, which requires no net loss of park space. Bradner Park Gardens blossomed with a windmill, a garden-themed tiled public restroom and a community meeting space powered by solar panels that give back to the grid.
Vibrant programs like P-Patch depend on a vigorous public-private commitment to thrive. The city manages the land and registration; gardeners contribute thousands of hours and raise money, including hundreds of Neighborhood Matching Fund awards, to build and expand their gardens. Past city investment has been richly rewarded. Two million dollars in the 2008-13 Parks and Green Spaces levy intended for four gardens instead built 24 new or expanded P-Patches in every corner of the city, adding garden space for 800 families.
At the same time, critically threatened is Ballard P-Patch, one of the oldest and largest with 90 plots, accessible gardening and annual donations of 2,500 pounds of produce to the Ballard Food Bank. The landowner, Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, generously provided the land for 43 years. It needs to fund critical capital improvements. While selling to gardeners by summer 2020 is its first choice, the area is suitable for four city lots. Gardeners are fundraising, but the needed $1.8 million is a challenge. Help from the mayor’s proposal would be a big boost to leverage additional public and private resources. Next up is Immaculate P-Patch, a tiny corner of a block in the Central Area. Purchase isn’t possible, but nearby public land has relocation potential. At least three more P-Patches in Queen Anne, University District and Capitol Hill also confront doubtful futures.
The P-Patch program, like our parks and community institutions, is part of what makes Seattle special. The city should safeguard its prosperity by planning for its future. Gardener passion will hugely reward modest city investment. A good start, which recognizes that P-Patch provides healthy access to food, is in the mayor’s budget. The City Council should accept this proposal while encouraging planning for long-term success.