Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Just Garden Project volunteers from United Indians Youth Home. Forefront right is Trenaye Turner.

At Large in Ballard: Hot Bed

I love words with multiple meanings and I love wordplay, which is why I was delighted by a description at the Seattle Housing Authority’s (SHA) Schwabacher House in Ballard. The Big Build, a project on Nov. 30 to create accessible gardens, was a hotbed of intergenerational activity and will provide actual hot beds for edible plants.

As a group lifted a cedar structure on its side to position soil, a young woman held out her gloved hands for me to admire a very long, healthy earthworm. Just as with another P-Patch related event last summer, I was then passed from one volunteer to the next, each one excited about the project and wanting to give credit to the other.

What was actually happening, along a parking strip on 59th NW St and at the rear of the SHA building, was the installation of raised garden beds that will be fully accessible to those using wheelchairs, walkers, canes or those with limited mobility. The cedar garden bed meeting the soil for the Big Build was the product of many groups, especially Seattle Department of Neighborhood’s P-Patch Program, and Seattle Tilth’s Just Garden Project.

Directed by Stephanie Seliga of Just Garden Project, volunteers from the United Indians Youth Home, Just Garden council members, an Americorps member and a Schwabacher resident were all wielding shovels and wheelbarrows while transporting donated dirt.

While Seliga supervised the outside crew, Team Leader and Schwabacher resident Shirley Ross was on the inside answering questions and giving all the credit to fellow residents for organizing the increasingly bountiful buffet. It was while attending a Seattle Housing Authority meeting on behalf of resident council that Ross learned about another senior home that had applied for a grant for accessible gardens. Armed with a brochure and a well-signed petition, she gained approval for the project. Almost miraculously what the residents dreamed of doing, having gardens and growing food again, was a wish that the Department of Neighborhoods was able to help grant.

Laura Raymond of the DoN’s P-Patch remarked that it has been a joy to be able to approach organizations with actual funds to complete a garden project. In turn it was an added pleasure to be able work with a resident-initiated request and award them $7,000. The city has been able to add 20 P-Patches since the 2008 Parks & Green Space Levy, with three targeted for low income housing such as Schwabacher. Working with the Just Garden Project is a great fit as its mission is: to work one-on-one with low income residents to help them gain self sufficiency and empowerment surrounding their food.

On the last day of November months of planning were all coming together in a mix of dirt, 1/4 minus recycled crushed concrete, rain showers and donated goods. A teacher at Seattle Girls School had built the cedar boxes, with one more to go. Provisions included supplies, support and sustenance from Compton Lumber, Cascadian Edibles, Ballard Market, PCC, Safeway, Starbucks, Lowes, Sustainable Ballard and Swanson’s Nursery.

Over lunch everyone talked about what excited them most about the project. Shirley Ross said she is excited about residents being able to interact with their direct neighbors through the parking strip garden beds, which they will share with them. “We used to have one smoker who sat outside,” she told me. “She was our most visible resident; now we’ll have a presence.” Ross mostly dreams of planting tomatoes, which should do well in what Seliga identified as the hot beds on the south-facing wall.

Looking at all the young people from United Indians Youth Home, which provides Native Americans ages 18-23 with transitional housing and job training programs, resident Jacquie Willette said, “Just these young people coming here makes me feel really good.”

Trenaye Turner, the volunteer who first shared the worm with me, was acting as recruiter for Cement Mason’s Local 528 for another young woman from Labateyah, the more common name for the youth home. Turner participated in Job Corps, then pre-apprenticed through South Seattle Community College and is now a Union cement mason. “I had the second best score when we took the test,” she said. Turner didn’t even sit down to eat before returning to the work.

Stephanie Seliga took the opportunity to thank everyone involved before they went back out to move the final dirt and tamp crushed concrete. There will be another morning of effort needed and a later phase of the project involving rainwater capture. But on the occasion of Nov. 30’s Big Build Seliga said, “It’s intergenerational. It’s intercultural. It’s fantastic.”

Sometimes a hotbed is associated with undesirable elements, for the seniors at Schwabacher House it will be a crop of mixed edibles and gratitude, with nary a weed.

To help with this garden or other Just Garden Projects see their website at www.justgarden.org.

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