Learn to grow more than vegetables in community gardens

April 17, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Starting a community garden can lead to abundant beans, kale and squash all summer long — not to mention a closer bond among neighbors.

Still, despite the ample — and tasty — payoff, establishing and maintaining a community garden is not as simple as Miracle-Gro. The process requires a dedicated team, green thumbs aplenty and a lot of elbow grease.

In a community garden — or pea patch, as the droll nickname goes — neighbors join forces to plant, maintain and harvest a summer bounty. (The name P-Patch is unique to Seattle and originates from the original community garden, Picardo Farm.)

What to know

Learn more about community gardens in King County — and find tips about how to start or join a community garden at the county Department of Parks and Natural Resources’ community garden website, www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/rentals/communitygardens.aspx.

How to get started

Find guidelines for creating a community garden from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods at www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch. The nonprofit organization American Community Gardening Association — based in Columbus, Ohio — offers a step-by-step guide to neighbors interested in establishing a community garden. Find instructions at www.communitygarden.org/learn/starting-a-community-garden.php.

Community garden alternatives

In order to participate in Sharing Backyards, follow the link labeled “Issaquah, WA” at www.sharingbackyards.com. Click on the icon showing clumps of grass to indicate “I am sharing my yard” or the binoculars icon to indicate “I am looking for space.”’ Learn more about Sharing Backyards’ proponent, Sustainable Issaquah, at http://sustainable-issaquah.org.

In Issaquah and nearby communities, such gardens thrive in the Issaquah Highlands, Klahanie, Mirrormont, Providence Point and other neighborhoods.

The bustling Issaquah Flatland Community Garden near the nonprofit organization AtWork! is a popular destination on a slice of downtown land. Organizers donate 25 percent of food grown on the site to the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank.

Farther afield, King County also maintains community gardens at several sites, including Marymoor Park in Redmond.

The demand for space in community gardens continues to increase. Often, the number of gardeners interested in a plot outstripped availability in recent summers.

The burgeoning eat-local effort and continued pressure from the anemic economy also caused interest in community gardens to grow.

Plans for the downtown parks planned for 15.5 acres along Issaquah Creek also include a community garden.

In April 2011, the King County Council established a program to encourage community gardens on county-owned property land. The program is under development, but the goal is to connect community groups, food security organizations and gardening enthusiasts to transform unused land into community gardens.

The initial step to establish a community garden is to form a plan. Success rides on the number of neighbors interested in creating such a garden.

Organizers must address issues related to land and insurance for the garden. Tasks need to be divvied up among participants.

Then, after choosing a site, neighbors must start preparing the land for the brief Pacific Northwest growing season. Most community garden participants start poking around in the mud long before spring rain yields to summer sunshine.

Gardeners learn early on to use space judiciously, because most pea patch plots occupy fewer than 100 square feet.

Conversation also grows among the raised beds and cedar chip pathways as gardeners trade tips and share experiences.

No room for a pea patch? No problem.

Sustainable Issaquah, a community group, joined the international urban gardening effort Sharing Backyards to connect landowners and people interested in growing food.

Sharing Backyards is a matchmaking website designed to link suppliers and people seeking space for gardening.

Under the program, space sharers must establish ground rules. Participants should consider questions such as who will water and harvest the produce.

Sustainable Issaquah encourages citizen engagement, education and action to strengthen economic, social and environmental vitality.

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