Thursday, April 1, 2010

History of Our Garden

Puyallup’s community gardens offer opportunities for growth

Joan Cronk / for The Herald

In 1980, the family of a man referred to as Farmer Brown donated a approximately 17.5 acres of land to the city of Puyallup, said Puyallup Parks and Recreation Manager Dick Weber.

Brown was known to be a quiet man, married to an American Indian, and they had no children.

“He didn’t have much to say,” Weber said, adding that when Brown talked, his intelligence shone through. During harvest time, the Canadian Indians came to the Brown farm to work. Brown and his wife housed them in a shelter on the property and they all lived together during harvest season. When Brown deeded the ground to the city, he stipulated the ground had to be used for either parks or a cemetery.

Thanks to that generous gift, passionate gardeners in Puyallup who were looking for a spot to dig in the dirt and grow fabulous vegetables now have that opportunity.
Seattle has been doing it for years, but the Puyallup valley folks are just now getting on board with community gardens. The Brown tract of ground sat vacant for years, but this year Kathy Powell took up the reins of the project and ran with it. The response has been huge and unexpected, Powell said.

Powell and her husband live in an area of Puyallup that is peppered with trees and moss, so she was looking for somewhere she could fill her need to dig in the dirt.

Their research found no local community gardens, so they signed up for one in Seattle. When they started attending the Puyallup Parks and Recreation meetings, they heard of this plot of ground in Puyallup that was donated more than 20 years ago.

Powell kept nudging the department and finally snagged someone who could till the area. She set 2009 as her target date to get folks involved.

Powell is a Master Gardener herself, and so roped others from her group into the project. With the help of Puyallup Parks and Rec Department, Powell rustled up a bunch of bookmarks advertising the fact that garden spaces were available. Suddenly they had a ball game. All of the 12 plots at Farmer Brown’s garden spot are now rented. Six of the plots are 10-by-10 feet and six are 10-by-20 feet. The rate for residents of Puyallup is $15 a plot and $17.25 for non-residents for the smaller plots and $20 and $23 for the larger ones. The planting season runs from May 1 through mid-October.

“The vision,” said Powell, “is to offer education there, not just for the gardeners, but for other members of the community. There is a bigger picture for the Brown farm.”

A small area is used for the gardens, but other space is available for these larger projects.

Randy Hynek, Sumner City Council member, spearheaded their community garden project in Sumner.

“When I first got on the council, there was a piece of property the City had that I thought would be a nice community garden,” said Hynek.

He spent some time driving around with one of the city shop guys who showed him every single piece of property the city owned. They found a tract the city owned and had been leasing for 20 years as a horse pasture. Hynek went to the council and got the go-ahead.

That piece of ground is on Valley Avenue East, adjacent to Hesselgrave Bus Service. Stacy Ota of Ota Farms rototilled it for them. Sumner Tractor also donated time and equipment to help on the project. When folks rent a plot at the community garden located on Valley Avenue behind Christ the King Lutheran Church, they will have access to this other space as well. That area will include corn and pumpkins and gardeners from the community garden can share in the bounty by donating just a little bit of time in the garden, such as weeding or planting.

The area behind Christ the King Church used to be a sheep farm. This garden area is 1.2 acres. Each plot is 6-by-12 and rents for $10 for the season. Fifty-one plots have been leased so far.

The sudden interest in growing vegetables seems to stem from the price of food and the fact that people are paying a great deal of attention to products grown organically.

Hynek said they could have waited until the conditions at the sheep pasture garden were perfect, but they wanted to get started. For that garden area, Windmill Gardens donated a tractor with a rototiller and the community has been generous with donations.

Joan Turnbull of Sumner is a master gardener and is over the moon with excitement about the gardens. “A lot of people have been gardeners for years and don’t have a space for vegetables,” she said.

On a recent Saturday at the Puyallup Farmer’s Market, as Powell passed out her bookmarks to advertise the Farmer Brown garden plots that were available, she met a woman who said she had been looking for just that opportunity.

“My husband and I have been praying for this,” said the future gardener. “You are an answer to our prayers.”

Powell said that comment and the woman’s excitement made all her efforts worthwhile.

Reach freelance reporter Joan Cronk by e-mail at


Anonymous said...

Fantastic write-up! It's great to see the garden thriving so well.

Are there more pictures available to post? I'd love to see some!


Anonymous said...

I had always wondered what would come of Brown's property - good to see it is being used.