Community Gardening World Descends on Seattle

In August, more than 300 people interested in community gardening and urban agriculture attended the 2013 annual meeting of the American Community Gardening Association. “Cultivating Community, Harvesting Health: Community Gardens to Urban Farms,” was the theme that drew gardeners, planners, government workers, organizers and academics from all over the country and Canada.  Some traveled far to tell their stories; two presentations from Korea and Japan shared the travails of community gardening in East Asia.  Hosted by the University Of Washington School of Landscape Architecture, the weather perfectly complemented the beauty of the UW campus.

After long months of preparation, conference partners, including the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Program, the UW, Seattle Tilth, and the P-Patch Trust and many volunteers, kicked off a preconference day organized by Seattle Tilth with a panel that explored the new economy of urban agriculture, its costs and benefits, and offered an afternoon of hands-on demonstrations with urban livestock, pollination, youth gardening, fermentation and other activities.

The conference proper began Friday with a moving keynote by Valerie Segrest, a community nutritionist, native foods educator and champion for health and social justice for indigenous people.  Valerie eloquently illuminated the cultural importance of food and the empowerment that happens when communities take back their food together. A rousing luncheon followed with Jim Diers, educator, community organizer, and author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way. Jim delighted everyone with inspiring tales of community-building throughout the world. After lunch, attendees were forced to choose between an awesome set of workshops. They could learn about bats as pollinators, Geographic Information Systems as a tool for locating land, or the use of landscape architects to realize community design aspirations.  Other workshops evoked the transformational power of community gardens, offered best practices for building giving gardens, and identified pest management tips.

Friday evening, the conference moved to the Daybreak Star Center, with its amazing sunset views of Puget Sound. A hugely successful silent auction rose more than the typical ACGA event with items like pillow shams from Mien Gardeners, local wines, and artwork and t-shirts from all over the county. Local jazz musician and P-Patch gardener, Jim O’Hallaran, kept the conference goers jumping as they feasted on the local fare provided by Herban Feast and Cupcake Royale. 

Saturday was tour day for Seattle P-Patch community gardens and urban agriculture projects.  Tours featured too much to relate, but a few highlights included the art tour with its repurposed vintage car as planting bed at UpGarden and garden mosaic restroom at Bradner. The heritage garden tour visited venerable Seattle community gardens including Picardo Farm, Interbay, and Danny Woo. The walking tour peeked into intimate Capitol Hill gardens as Thomas Street, with its kissing bench, the repurposed parking lots of Unpaving Paradise and Howell Collective, and the newly-forming Broadway Hills. Urban Agriculture aficionados saw Seattle production farming in Seattle as represented by backyard farms in Ballard and commercial and community farms at High Point and Marra Farm. Food justice featured prominently in a tour that visited, among other sites, the Just Garden Project at High Point, Community Kitchens at Rainier Community Center, and Ground Up Organics at Yesler Terrace. Film was an important component of the conference as ACGA held it first-ever film festival, “Growing Community from the Ground Up.” Amateur videographers from around the country submitted three-minute videos of their personal community gardening stories. Saturday finished with a showing of Deborah Koons Garcia’s film, “Symphony of Soil,” a poignant account of the effect of climate change on humanity’s precious resource, its soil. 

On Sunday, tired conferees finished with a rousing closing panel moderated by Jim Diers. Panelists included Graham Kerr, chef, author and educator; Robert Servine from Seattle Youth Garden Works; Laura Raymond, P-Patch Levy Development Coordinator; and Richard Conlin, Seattle City Council member. Each spoke passionately and personally about the impact of community gardening. Richard Conlin surprisingly made policy work exciting as he fervently described the real effect it has on the lives of people. By Sunday afternoon, tired attendees headed home or to a South Puget Sound tour, while local volunteers happily removed decorations and imagined attending next year’s conference as visitors, not hosts! 

 Click here to view photos from the conference.