For 43 years, everything has been going great at this half-acre of greenery at Northwest 85th Street and 25th Avenue Northwest. Sunflowers, green beans, tomatoes, congenial folks. Tilling dirt in the big city.
Gardening the 94 plots of the Ballard P-Patch is so popular there is a two-year waiting list with 50 to 75 people. Turnover is slow at this haven of greenery that is leased to the city for $1 a year by the owners, Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church across the street
But things can change just like that.
In February, the volunteers running the P-Patch found themselves trying to figure out where to find $2 million to buy that piece of urban tranquility. They had about a year to come up with it.
The church was planning a renovation, and the $2.5 million it had budgeted skyrocketed to an amount that could reach $4.5 million. It turned out the massive renovation had triggered additional work to bring the church up to seismic, fire-suppression and other codes.
Now the church was looking for the extra money. And there, adjoining its parking lot, was the Ballard P-Patch, ready to accommodate four residences in a highly desirable neighborhood.
“I never planned to get involved in something like this. But I love the place,” says Mary Jean Gilman, a landscape architect and one of the P-Patch volunteers. “We’re just not going down without a struggle.”
Gilman is semi-retired, 68, and works 10 to 15 hours a week on landscaping. She puts in another 15 to 20 hours a week on the P-Patch effort.
“I feel for younger people. I have lived that life, raising children, working 40 hours a week. It’s wonderful to have that little bit of flexibility,” she says about her P-Patch work.
Another volunteer is Cindy Krueger, 67, who put in years at everything from a firm that managed projects, to another that ran creative productions and events. It’s a background that means she’s not intimidated by big PDF documents or bureaucracies.
“Back in 1985, we did the first Microsoft meeting, 85 people at the Red Lion in Bellevue. Steve Ballmer with a slide projector – ‘This is Windows,’ ” she remembers.
Now saving the P-Patch has become her full-time job.
Much of the volunteers’ time is spent in meetings. Meetings with the church. Meetings with city and county council members, or somebody on their staffs. Meetings with city staffers, with groups ranging from the Seattle Parks Foundation to GROW, the land conservancy nonprofit for community gardens.
As Krueger remembers from meetings with the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, which administers the P-Patch program, “They wished us good luck: ‘We have no revenue.’ ”
The group even gave a tour of the garden to all six candidates in the primary for City Council District 6.
Not surprisingly, they all said that keeping the Ballard P-Patch going was a great idea.
The church is doing its best to help the volunteer effort.
It hasn’t talked to any developers, says Pastor Kathy Hawkes.
“Our mission is to serve beyond ourselves and serve the community,” she says. In previous tough budget times, “We never looked at selling the P-Patch. We just tightened things.”
But tightening is not going to produce the necessary funds, which could be as much as $2 million.
“We want to give them as much time as possible,” the pastor says about the P-Patch volunteers. Still, “We need to be assured by the time we start construction that the money will come.”
And that’s around April 2020.
At a time when government programs get knocked regularly, there is no question that the P-Patch program is one of the city’s most successful endeavors.
With 89 gardens, it’s one of the largest such programs in the country with more than 3,100 participants, and definitely the oldest such program.
It’s so popular that there are more than 2,000 people on the waiting list for a plot of land, with the majority of plots being 60 to 200 square feet.
When the city recently surveyed participants, back came responses such as, “My children can see that food is grown, not purchased.” “The garden feels like a safe place for me, where I can go outside and work through my workweek while growing beautiful things.” “It gets me out of the apartment for my only exercise and most of all my socialization.”
By the way, the “P” in P-Patch doesn’t stand for “pea.”
It stands for Picardo, the family whose patriarch, Orazio “Rainie” Picardo, in 1976 conveyed to the city property he owned at 8040 25th Ave. N. E. in Wedgwood for use as the city’s first P-Patch. P-Patch. His father had emigrated here from Italy and started truck farming at that location.
The Ballard P-Patch effort has raised nearly $49,000 through Mightcause.com to buy the land.
That’s a long ways from $2 million, and so now the volunteers have to learn how to fill out grant forms such as the 14-page King County “Conservation Futures Tax Levy (CFT) Application for Funds.”
The volunteers also hope that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2020 budget includes $3 million as a one-time funding from the sweetened-beverage tax for the P-Patches.
But, says Lois Maag, spokeswoman for the Department of Neighborhoods, “it is too early in the budget process to know” whether some of that $3 million could go to the Ballard P-Patch.
The city has 10 other P-Patches on private land, the rest being on public land. Maag says she doesn’t know of any landowners planning to sell land currently occupied by P-Patches.
As for the Ballard volunteers, it is time to figure out how to do the famous “Big Ask” from possible donors.
Says Krueger, “We’re just kind of learning along the way. We’re making the big ask.”