As the City of Seattle celebrates 50 years of the P-Patch program, it’s important to recognize a key partner since the early years: GROW.
Formed in 1975 as “Friends of the P-Patch,” this volunteer non-profit has served critical roles as a land trust and fiscal sponsor for decades of community gardens. As GROW Board of Trustees President Kristin Parker puts it GROW is “the missing link that makes the system work.”
In 2015 the organization rebranded to GROW to open their mission to community gardens outside of the P-Patch program and outside of Seattle. Since then, GROW has been able to provide microgrants and administrative support to school and other community gardens that are unable to receive funding through the P-Patch Program.
These microgrants “are even smaller and have even fewer barriers to application…because we aren’t constrained like the city is,” Parker said, adding that the microgrants are “an important way we are trying to make community gardening more equitable.”
In addition to providing accessible funding, GROW is also expanding outside city boundaries to support community gardens in municipalities with more limited gardening resources. The organization is in the beginning stages of working with gardens in Shoreline and Des Moines. Parker said GROW is very open to hearing from groups who would like to connect from throughout the region.
Arguably the most important role GROW plays in our local food system is as a land trust. By holding land for the sole purpose of community gardening in urban areas, GROW is ensuring a continuation of open space and urban land access even as Seattle continues to gain population and densify.
As Parker puts it, “there is so much pressure on land in the city, as Seattle tries to develop density and affordable housing. One of the most important things that has to be done is to preserve open space. [Community gardens] become so much more important to individuals who live here.”
A recent success for GROW in land preservation is the Ballard P-Patch. In 2019, after over 40 years of continuous use as a community garden, the landowner of the Ballard P-Patch announced plans to sell. By this time, the parcel was valued around $2 million due to the huge growth and popularity of the Ballard neighborhood.
The Ballard P-Patch gardeners themselves launched a fundraising campaign, with more than half of the funding coming through GROW’s role as a fiscal sponsor to apply for a King County Conservation Futures grant. With this grant and the funds raised by gardeners, GROW was able to purchase the land outright in 2021 and place a conservation easement on its title for indefinite preservation.
Parker hopes to continue to expand this work as a land trust. However, as an all-volunteer, donation funded organization, this can be difficult as capacity and resources are limited. This year, especially, GROW is serving as a fiscal sponsor and providing many services for P-Patches hosting 50th anniversary celebrations.
Yet the GROW team is so passionate and hardworking that they continue to bolster community gardens no matter the limitations. As Parker says, “I’m always excited about land acquisitions and preserving space for people to learn about growing food!”