Find Posts By Topic

Data to Action: How Seattle’s P-Patch Program is Growing with Equity

This article was written by the City of Seattle Innovation and Performance team and was originally published on their blog.

Walking through Seattle streets, you are bound to pass a Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch community garden, a lush plot of land dedicated to vegetables, herbs, and flowers. P-Patches are so iconic in Seattle that it has become a generic term for any small patch of land growing food.

As Seattle grows and evolves, so does Seattle’s P-Patch program. Thanks to a new effort to increase diversity and equity in the popular program, P-Patches are welcoming more gardeners of color, low-income gardeners, immigrants and refugees, and members of other underrepresented groups than ever before.

How did the Department of Neighborhoods achieve this? They started by looking at the data.

Kenya Fredie, P-Patch Program Supervisor at the Department of Neighborhoods, says she and her team saw disparities in the data of who was participating in the program. People of color and low-income residents were participating at lower rates. So, the P-Patch team asked themselves what it would take to develop the program in a more holistic manner to better reflect the neighborhoods in which the gardens resided.

New Guidelines Open the Field

Fredie recognized that before making any changes to the program’s structure, the Department of Neighborhoods first needed to look inward to make sure their team had a strong race and social justice foundation. They worked with an external facilitator who, Fredie says, was able to “pick us apart and put us back together.”

By early 2020, the P-Patch program rolled out their new Plot Assignment Guidelines which aimed to address the disparity for gardeners from historically underrepresented populations. Individuals on the interest list who identify as Black or African American, Indigenous/Native, and Latinx or Hispanic; households making 30% or below Seattle area median income; immigrants and refugees; people who need to garden in an accessible raised bed; and groups that serve seniors, children, and youth (up to age 24) are prioritized by the program for plot assignments.

“It’s pretty dynamic,” Fredie reflects, “to have a vision and a dream, and seeing it happen in real time, it’s phenomenal. We hear from the BIPOC gardeners that it’s a way for them to connect to their ancestors and connect with their ancestral lands.”

While generally well received, the new plot guidelines didn’t sit well with everyone right away. When they first rolled out, there was pushback from some gardeners who didn’t understand why the new guidelines were being implemented. The program took this as an opportunity to partner with internal City departments and external facilitators to offer free anti-racism resources and trainings to interested gardeners.

New Roots

Data shows that the P-Patch program’s goal to create a diverse gardening community has been incredibly successful, and testimonies of the new gardeners reflect it. In the first year alone, the new plot guidelines saw 348 families assigned plots through priority placement, meaning 45% of new gardeners were from underrepresented groups. In 2022, that percentage rose to 65%.

In 2023, a new gardener commented, “I feel more connected to my neighborhood, a multi-generational and diverse community and have excellent produce that I cannot buy elsewhere.” Other gardeners enjoyed the social cohesion that is present at their respective P-Patches too, especially during the isolation of the pandemic. “The p-patch really tied us to our community and gave us a sense of belonging in our neighborhood these past two years. It opened us up not only to new people, but to a sense of agency outside of the basic routine,” a Licton Springs gardener shared in 2020.

Changing Through the Years

Over its 50-year history, the P-Patch program has in many ways paralleled the economics, growth, challenges, and progress of Seattle itself. Many might think the “P” in P-Patch stands for peas, but it’s to honor the Picardo family and their instrumental role in the origins of the program. In 1970, the Picardo family of Wedgwood donated a modest plot of land to the community to grow food. The idea of community gardening quickly took off, and by 1973 the City of Seattle acquired the Picardo farmland and developed the program we know today.

It has ebbed and flowed in popularity with the various earth movements, at times findings itself in the center of disagreements. However, through the ups and downs, P-Patches have always remained a lifeline for those looking for a way to grow their own inexpensive, organic, and culturally significant food.

The new guidelines introduced in 2020 are far from the program’s first evolution. In 1995, the City partnered with the Seattle Housing Authority to create Cultivating Communities, adopting a proactive approach to working with low-income communities and immigrant populations. The program also works closely with local partners to support youth gardening and community food security programs. Often, the extra produce not used by the gardeners is donated back to the community to help those in need. Just last year, the P-patch program reported P-Patch gardeners were able to donate 40k pounds of organic produce to local meal programs through its Giving Gardens program.

Today, the P-Patch program has the data to show that taking a new approach is working to bring in a new wave of gardeners in this beloved program. Fredie is looking forward to seeing what the next generation does with community gardening: “It is our hope that Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Gardens are used as a tool to promote safe gardening practices, and healthy lifestyle choices to future generations.”

If you are interested in getting involved with the P-Patch program, check out their website to learn more.

Mayor Harrell’s One Seattle Data Strategy creates a shared vision for how we can better collect, use, manage, communicate, and lead with data. Check out more examples of how Seattle’s data and analytics are being put to use for residents.