Saving Gardens: A growing concern
By Jean Godden
Recent news was grim. Seattle's Upgarden -- a P-Patch located high atop the Mercer Street Garage -- looked doomed. Upgardeners had received notice they were being shoved out, making way for 80 additional parking spaces at the Seattle Center's parking garage.
The eviction notices had been specific. The community gardens were "to be gone by October, 2020." The space would be needed once hockey fans started flocking to NHL games in the reconstructed arena.
It seemed like the end for Seattle's Upgarden -- the first ever municipal rooftop garden. The garden had been built atop the old structure, occupying half of the garage's top floor. It opened in 2012, sharing billing with the 50th anniversary celebration of Century 21, the city's 1962 World's Fair.
The garden featured people-pleasing features. Sited among the garden plots was a donated 1987 Ford Galaxie, painted purple and ready to be planted with tomatoes and salad greens. Stationed nearby was a vintage Airstream Trailer, outfitted as a community tool shed. There were 100 fully-accessible raised plots awaiting urban gardeners.
On June 7, 2012, Mayor Mike McGinn spoke at opening ceremonies. The mayor recalled how the Century 21 Exposition had imagined the world of the future: Traffic-less highways, gyrocopters and home heliports, cordless appliances and floating sea farms.
"They didn't get it quite right," McGinn said. "But they did imagine that families would be able to share the abundance of the earth." At the Upgarden, that abundance soon blossomed forth from P-Patch gardens that produced tons of fresh vegetables, enough to share with local food banks.
Seattle's P-Patch Program ranks as one of the nation's largest. It started in 1970 when University of Washington student Darlyn Rundberg asked her neighbors, the Picardo family, if she could use a corner of their Wedgwood truck farm for a small garden. Eventually, the Picardos bowed to economic pressures and sold their farm to the city. Thus the city's first P-Patches, the "P" stands for Picardo, were born in 1973. Today's 89 community gardens, managed by the Department of Neighborhoods, are so popular there's a waiting list of over 2,000.
But let's get back to the cliff-hanging story of the Upgarden, the threatened P-Patch destined to be turned back into parking spaces. Elections sometimes have consequences and fall's election was one such event. During the campaign, Andrew Lewis, the city's successful District 7 candidate, had promised to do his best to save the garden.
On Dec. 31, last day of the year, new Councilmember Lewis took his oath of office at the Upgarden. He brought a present: Welcome news that he and Mayor Jenny Durkan had worked out an agreement allowing the garden to remain as long as Mercer Garage is used for parking. There was talk about P-Patches as "green oases," about "building community" and a number of puns about "grassroots." Gardeners waved signs saying: "P-Patches: A Growing Concern."
The Upgarden's happy ending might be contagious. One hopes so. Another community garden, the Ballard P-Patch is now at risk. The garden occupies acreage owned by the Redeemer Lutheran Church on Northwest 85th Street. The need to remodel, updating seismic and fire protections, is forcing the church to sell land the garden has used (leased for $1 a year) for more than 40 years.
The threatened gardeners are hoping to buy the land and preserve the P-Patch's 94 garden plots. But it's going to be difficult. The Department of Neighborhoods, while encouraging, doesn't have any funds. The P-Patchers themselves have set up a donation site, saveballardppatch.org. Last I checked, they'd raised $59,046. Alas, it's a long way from the needed $2 million and time is growing short.
Originally there had been hope for help from the city sugary-beverage tax receipts ($22 million raised last year); but, before departing, former Councilmember Mike O'Brien "ringfenced" those receipts, restricting money to other programs.
The story isn't over, but it is going to take a lot of effort to keep the Ballard P-Patch alive. It's going to take pleading and political pull and maybe a church-inspired miracle. As one of the volunteers, Mary Jean Gilman, vowed: "We're not going down without a struggle."