Sunday, April 11, 2010

Local Roots: People from all walks of life join together to garden

Local roots: People from all walks of life join together to garden

In both Puyallup and Sumner, the efforts of two groups of dedicated residents have resulted in two very impressive community gardens.

While each group has a different long-term dream of what their garden will become, it is notable that what has sprouted from the original seeds of thought around each garden is a common belief — with each year the gardens continue to grow a stronger sense of community. Everyone involved agrees this is a wonderful way to get to know your neighbors, make new friends, reclaim and beautify unused land. People from all walks of life come out to participate in the projects, because they enjoy being outside during the summer months, raising flowers, growing their own organic food and sharing their bounty with others. Both gardens are entering into their third season of operation.

Though the acreage had not been tended in years, Puyallup native Kathy Johansson Powell, a Master Gardener, saw the Lawrence Brown property on 19th Avenue Southwest as the perfect spot to sew the seeds of an idea. Powell, who grew up near Clark’s Creek, the WSU Extension Center and Picha’s Berries, felt strongly that Puyallup’s farming heritage had to be preserved.

With a $775 stipend from the Pierce County Master Gardener Foundation, strong support from Dick Weber and Kent Boyle of Puyallup Parks and Recreation, some donated tools and a group of dedicated volunteers, the Brown Property was prepared to welcome community gardeners.

There are now 35 plots and countless volunteers working to create what Powell envisions as “a working farm park and an education garden.” In collaboration with Master Gardeners, Parks and Recreation and the Eagle Scout program, the Brown Property is becoming both a community garden and a park.

“People who don’t garden enjoy walking through the developing trails. They like to see what is growing, and they are enjoying the park and the gardens as each phase bring change.” Powell said.

Tanya Hulbert has tended a plot in the Puyallup garden since the beginning of the program. When she moved back to Puyallup three years ago, she realized she had no room to garden in her own yard so jumped at the chance to have a plot in the community garden.

“I take my 5-year-old daughter with me. I grow flowers, berries and vegetables so we enjoy fresh produce and cut flowers all summer long. If it weren’t for this garden, I wouldn’t have anything at all,” she said. “I love to include my daughter in the garden events, including spring clean up and harvest. All of us work together to plant and maintain the garden.”

A new addition to the Puyallup garden is a shed, hand-built by Thomas Lenell, as his Eagle Scout service project. Because there are many volunteer opportunities available at the garden, Lenell was given a list of options to consider. Volunteers from his Boy Scout troop put in 200 man hours building the shed. He said enjoyed the experience and while he’s not a gardener, he is actively encouraging other Scouts to become involved with any of the future projects for the gardens and park.

Three years ago, Sandra Olsen saw the activity in her neighborhood and walked down to the community garden to learn more about it. She was asked to be on the garden’s steering committee and accepted the invitation.

“This is my neighborhood and I want to be involved in this positive way. There is a great sense of community involvement around sharing this space. First-time visitors to the park interested in what we are doing and we always encourage them to become involved too. The impact on the neighborhood has been tremendous. It brings a sense of caring for the area and what is going on here. The gardeners share seeds and techniques with each other. People enjoy walking their dogs on the trails, and the Scouting involvement has been terrific,” Olsen said.

She grows vegetables all season long and last summer shared her organic produce with a friend battling cancer. She shares Powell’s vision for the property, that it will become more of a community area, including footpaths throughout the garden plots, educational gardens and a composting area. She is excited about plans to create a children’s garden, hoping it will spark their interest and provide education about organic gardening.


In Sumner, Randy Hynek and Bonney Lake resident and Master Gardener Ed Smith are just two of several people who worked to acquire two pieces of land for community gardens — one, an unused city-owned piece of property, and the other, a piece of land owned by a local church. The donation of a tractor, a small stipend and some labor hours from the city of Sumner, as well as collaboration with volunteers at the Sumner Food Bank galvanized their plans.

Last year, after only two years in operation, more than 150 families enjoyed the garden plots, volunteered their time to plant and harvest, enjoyed fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables all season, and still donated 37,000 pounds of fresh produce to local area food banks. With 100,000 square feet of gardening space between the two properties, they hope to increase that donation (in number of pounds) this season.

“It’s such a great way to get to know your neighbors. Gardening is for everybody, and everything involved in running and maintaining these gardens is done by volunteers,” Hynek said. “People of every age, income level, social status come together to garden. We always have a very high turn-out for our spring clean up and other maintenance events. Everyone is willing to pitch in and help, to ensure we can all continue to enjoy these gardens. In addition, we all love the health aspect of being involved, including the exercise, fresh air, and the food security we all enjoy by growing organic produce.”

Hynek’s long-term goal is to provide people as much garden space as they would like to have.

Smith, a Sumner native who lives in Buckley, has been involved with the garden since its inception. It began as a class project while he was in the WSU Master Gardener program. Now Smith is the coordinator for the farm.

“I have plots at both gardens so that I can enjoy gardening, and help other folks with theirs. These gardens have had a huge impact on the community.”

Smith, who grows vegetables, and colossal pumpkins, enjoys that people from all walks of life participate.

“It sews everything about the community together, and it doesn’t have boundaries — you don’t have to live in Sumner. If you are a citizen of the region, you are welcome to participate.”

Eighty-one-year-old Don Proctor of Sumner agrees.

“It has been positive beyond belief. It has helped to keep me healthy and strong. There is such a cross section of people all coming together to help and to share. We’ve raised a lot of produce in those gardens, but what we’ve raised most is community spirit. That, to me, is as important as raising the food.”

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