50 years of growth: Seattle’s P-Patch Program celebrates half a century of community gardening

In Spring 1970, amidst an economic downturn and the beginnings of the environmental movement, Darlyn Rundberg proposed an idea that would change Seattle forever. Rundberg asked for a portion of the Picardo family’s farmland to be turned into a community garden for low-income neighbors to grow fruits and vegetables.

The Picardos agreed, and the community garden was so successful that in spring 1973 the City of Seattle officially acquired the plot and created the first P-Patch (so named in honor of the Picardo’s original donation).

The P-Patch Community Gardening Program, managed by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, is the largest municipally managed community gardening program west of New York. Community gardeners grow food, flowers, and herbs on 15 acres of land across the city of Seattle and provide stewardship for an additional 35 acres.

All P-Patch gardens are open to the public to enjoy and are utilized as restorative spaces, learning and idea incubators, and venues for community gatherings. Vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers are grown by over 3600 individual gardeners; one rule gardeners must follow is to use organic gardening practices.

This rule not only provides the city with healthy food, but conserves green space and provides habitat for urban pollinators and animals. These functions are essential for a dense and rapidly growing city like Seattle, helping the P-Patch Program to thrive throughout the decades.

P-Patch gardeners watering their crops in 1990.

Then and Now

The first P-Patch was formed to give low-income families access to land to produce fresh, healthy, food and that commitment to food access hasn’t faded over the decades. In 2022, 44,403 pounds of organic produce were donated from P-Patch gardens to meal programs and food banks throughout Seattle.

Sharing food with neighbors is so central to the program that not even the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic could shake that commitment. As P-Patch Program Supervisor Kenya Fredie said: “I honestly thought that our donations to area feeding programs would diminish, but it actually increased over the last three years. I thought a lot of people would want to save for themselves and do more canning, but the giving has grown during these unprecedented times.”

What has changed since 1973 is the program’s commitment to advancing racial equity and inclusion. In 2020, the program adopted a strong Anti-Racism Mission Statement, shifted its workplan to designate more resources to BIPOC gardens, and developed a priority placement program to bring in more underrepresented gardeners.

The priority placement program has been so successful that hundreds of BIPOC and low-income gardeners have received plots of their own over the past few years. Staff resources and support have also been shifted more to gardens with greater need.

“About fifteen P-Patches are on Seattle Housing Authority sites, and they are really beautiful and really deserve our attention and time to build up,” says Fredie. The workplan overhaul in 2020 has continued to give more focus to these gardens.

Beacon Food Forest, one of the newest P-Patches, seen from above.

The Next Fifty Years

Kenya Fredie has been working on the P-Patch Program for the past fifteen years, and five years ago became the Program Supervisor. The biggest change she has seen over her time with the program is a shift to narrative and story-telling methods of communication.

When Fredie joined “the voice was not holistic,” and the Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Team has spent much of their time thinking about how to make the program more inclusive and more equitable, especially for the many limited-English speaking gardeners. Focusing on both qualitative and quantitative information, as well as uplifting the stories of diverse gardeners, have made the P-Patch Program’s messaging and planning processes more inclusive.

Currently, the P-Patch Program is in a time of transition. Many original staff, gardeners, and community partners are retiring. Fredie is “really excited to build the team” for the next phase of the program.

Having experienced a huge spike in interest over the pandemic, Fredie’s biggest hope for the future is continued funding and staff power to expand and enhance the program.

She also wants to see more community gardens, P-Patch or not, throughout the city.

“We have something that’s beneficial to so many people, and to the environment. There’s all these benefits that I think are underappreciated. Community gardening is just amazing to me and I would really like to see it grow,” Fredie says when asked about the next fifty years of P-Patches. “That’s my vision: growth.” 

If you would like to learn more, or become a P-Patch gardener yourself, go to https://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/p-patch-gardening

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