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Huong Nguyen stands near her West Seattle garden P-Patch (photo by Rachel Belle)

Seattle's P-Patch Gardens Give Immigrants a Taste of Home

In Seattle's P-Patch community gardens you'll hear languages from all over the world. In West Seattle's High Point, the gardeners are mostly southeast Asian immigrants from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. There are 90 P-Patch gardens tucked into all corners of the city, so people who can't grow a garden at home have a way to grow their own vegetables. But something I hadn't thought of before reading an article on the Seattle Globalist website, is that these gardens are a way for immigrants to grow food from their home countries.

Huong Nguyen moved to Seattle from Vietnam more than ten years ago. Here she speaks with help from a translator.

"Because my country is not freedom. I escaped from Vietnam and come here. That was a result of the 1975, north Vietnamese taking over south Vietnam. Turning it into a communist country."

Huong stands in the community garden wearing a traditional bamboo, Vietnamese sun hat, that is acting more like a rain hat on this misty Seattle day. Leafy greens are just starting to sprout from the soil in her raised garden bed.

"I'm growing mustard green, these are from Vietnam. Someone bring [the seeds] from Vietnam and I grow it."

She also grows Vietnamese mint and black beans.

Gardeners can keep their P-Patch plot as long as they maintain it and continue to grow things. Huong's had her plot for five years and says it makes a big difference for her family.

"The two main reasons, one is we're low income people, so if we were to buy these items, especially these organically grown items at a store, it would be too expensive for us. Secondly, it's organic."

A lot of the garden beds here are full of kale and carrots, corn and potatoes, just like yours might be. But the interesting part is how these vegetables will be prepared. While I might saute my greens in olive oil and garlic, Huong has her own methods.

"This vegetable can be dried or it can be pickled. We can use it on special holidays or occasions."

Huong's black beans will never find their way into a burrito. They'll be enjoyed in a dessert similar to the consistency of oatmeal.

Oun Yeav moved to Seattle from Cambodia more than 20 years ago and like everyone else in America, she has hopped on the kale train.

"In Cambodia we don't have this one, it's called kale."

But her kale won't make appearances in salads or smoothies.

"Put a little bit of fish sauce, sugar and lemon, crab paste or fish paste, if you want it spicy you use chile."

The P-Patch program started 41 years ago and many people assume the "P" in P-Patch represents pea, the vegetable, but P-Patch program supervisor, Rich Macdonald, explains the history of the garden program.

"It came from the family that owned the first farm that became the first community garden in Seattle. They are the Picardo family. They are an Italian immigrant family who farmed in northwest Seattle, the Wedgewood neighborhood, from about the 1920s to the 1960s and they had about 12 acres of land. Ultimately the city purchased the property and the program started in memory, in commemoration, of the family. We took the "P" from Picardo and it became the P-Patch program."

The P-Patch program has grown to be so popular, it might be awhile before you can snag a plot.

"If you're in Capitol Hill you're going to be waiting a long time, it's four-plus years [wait] now. If you're in north Seattle or southeast, we could get you a garden plot right away."

People pay between $5 and $35 a year for a garden plot, depending on their income, and community garden coordinator, Bun Li Yun, says they provide everything but the seeds.

"Each garden, we provide them tools. Like here, you see we have tool shed, we have shovel, wheelbarrows. Also, each garden, we provide compost."

During harvest months, low-income residents can sell their fresh grown vegetables via CSA boxes to earn extra money.

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Saturdays at 5pm and Sundays at 3pm).
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