Shared Seattle Gardens: The Growing P-Patch Community

Food Tuesday, June 4, 2013 Written by

If only Ernesto Picardo could see his family farm today. Along with his two brothers, Ernesto left Italy in the 1890s to settle in Seattle, and in 1922, the family began farming a piece of land in the northeastern part of the city. After Ernesto passed away, neighbors began cultivating the unused land. In 1973, with the family’s permission, the city purchased the land and dedicated for a Seattle garden space — the first of many. Today, more than 2,050 households tend to a patchwork of individual plots within 76 of the “P-Patch” community gardens sprinkled throughout the city.

What is a P-Patch?

Named after the Picardo family, each P-Patch contains plots ranging from tidy 10×10-foot squares to spacious (and coveted) 10×40-foot gardens. These 100 percent organic gardens are managed by Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, but are maintained, tended to, and cared for by an active crew of dedicated green thumbs.

Judy’s Patch

Judy Foley has sown her beloved plot in Magnuson Park’s P-Patch for several years. She describes the P-Patch community as very diverse, with “people of all ages and ethnicities, and spaces for people with disabilities and for those from the nearby low-income housing development.”

“There are many long-time gardeners, but also many people new to gardening who want a space to grow their own produce,” said Foley.

The P-Patch program makes a concerted effort to make community gardens accessible to all: 55 percent of Seattle P-Patch gardeners are low income, and 78 percent do not have gardening space where they live.

So what makes the P-Patch so special? For starters, the gardens themselves are well-positioned in sunny, accessible locations suited for growing vegetables. But besides being a nice piece of earth, the P-Patch offers gardeners a place to connect with others, as well as educational opportunities, volunteer events, and a place of solace away from the hubbub of city life.

“I like being part of the larger community,” said Foley. “To feel like we’re all working together to make something wonderful happen. I like giving my extra produce to the food bank. I also really like the solitude in my garden. It restores me to get my hands in the dirt, to listen to the birds, to watch things grow. It’s a place of renewal.”

If this wasn’t enough, growing her own vegetables has changed her cooking and diet dramatically.

“We eat a lot more fresh produce,” Foley added. “A lot more greens, both cooked and in salads, and fresh peas and beans. I make big batches of soup, like vegetable minestrone, squash soup, and Italian ribollita with greens, zucchini, tomatoes and beans. I also pickle and can vegetables to eat throughout the winter. And even then, I grow more than my one family can eat!”

Get Your Own P-Patch

Given these benefits, it isn’t hard to see why there is a long wait list – several years at the most popular Seattle gardens – to receive a plot. The city is attempting to address this high demand by offering smaller plot sizes and experimenting with new models such as larger shared tracts, collective gardens without individual plots, and giving gardens.

To learn more about the P-Patch program, check out a map of nearby gardens, or apply for your own plot, visit the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.