Parks Levy Making it Happen: Expanding Community Gardens

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Marra Farm Lon Shed

I led the effort to include more money for community gardens when the Council put together the renewal of the Parks Levy in 2008.  We wound up including $2 million, which may sound like a lot, but given how expensive land can be, we were only able to conservatively promise adding four more gardens. But those of us working on food issues had a plan to get dramatically more results.  Here’s the plot:  we knew that the City owns a lot of land, and that some of that land is only lightly used or is even sitting idle.  Rights-of-way on hillsides that will never be roads; open space around reservoirs; property that the City acquired for projects that were later abandoned; parks property that is not developed.  Instead of using the $2 million to buy property and develop gardens on it, we proposed inventorying property that the City already owned and seeing if gardens could be sited there.  That way we could stretch the money out, developing new gardens while spending only the modest sums needed to cleanup and grade sites or bring in water service.

Hazel Heights Bee Committee

City staff took this idea and ran with it, and have done an amazing job so far, with more to come.  They have committed less than half of the funds, and are working on sixteen new or expanded gardens, adding at least 250 plots.  Four are already complete – an expansion at Marra Farm to add 3 market garden plots, and three new gardens – Spring Street in the Central Area, West Genesee in the West Seattle Junction, and Hazel Heights in Fremont.  Total City investment for these four:  $66,500 for 50 new garden plots. Nine more projects are underway, including two more costly ones, Unpaving Paradise on Capitol Hill, which required tearing up pavement to convert a parking lot into 36 garden plots, and Barton Street in the Roxhill/Westwood neighborhood, where land needed to be acquired to add 40 plots in this underserved area.  Three more projects will be launched this spring. While City staff have done a great job managing the Parks levy funds, none of this could happen without both those dedicated and hard working staff members, and the great investment of time and resources by the community members who collaborate on the development and take on the stewardship responsibility for these projects.

One from the vault: Mayor Paul Schell and me at opening of Courtland Place P-Patch, 2000

There’s lots more work to do to reach the dream of having a garden plot available for anyone in Seattle who wants to grow food (there is still a waiting list in most neighborhoods!), but we are making progress.  Check out the complete report at