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After 43 years, Seattle P-Patch garden in danger of being lost to development

Seattle's P-Patch garden. (Seattle P-Patch)

Every Tuesday evening during the summer, members of the Ballard P-Patch gather in their community garden for a potluck, surrounded by shiny red tomatoes hanging heavy on vines, and big, beautiful dahlias in all shades of coral, lemon and magenta. It’s a rare wild, natural oasis tucked in to an urban neighborhood.

“Just look around you right now!” said Cathy Hiller, who has been tending to her patch for ten years. “I’m looking at beautiful beets, I’m looking at the crimson glow of the sunset and I get to be here! And I am a lucky, lucky person for that.”

But Hiller’s luck may soon be up: The land the P-Patch sits on is in danger of being developed.

P-Patches are City of Seattle-sanctioned community garden spaces where people apply for a small plot and often wait years until their name is called. Most plots are on city owned land, but the Ballard P-Patch sits on land owned by the church across the street.

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“We’ve been here since 1976 on land that Our Redeemers Lutheran has leased to the city for a song, $1 a year for all of those years,” said Ballard P-Patch leadership chair Cindy Krueger. “And we’re one of the largest in a system of 89 gardens.”

Back in February, Our Redeemers Lutheran came to the gardeners with bad news: The church needs major code upgrades, to the tune of nearly $2 million.

“We’d already done a capital campaign, our budget is pretty stretched as it is,” said Pastor Kathy Hawks. “We finally just came to the conclusion that this property was the property that could serve our needs to be able to keep the building safe.”

Why it’s happening

It would be easy — and lazy — to assume that this is a story of good versus evil. That the evil church is pulling the land out from under the poor gardeners. But that wouldn’t be true.

“We’ve been very proud, passionate, committed supporters of the P-Patch for all these 43 years,” said Pastor Hawks. “Our greatest hope is that the P-Patch is permanent. That’s why we approached the P-Patch in February instead of going to a real estate broker.”

So far the P-Patch has raised more than $48,000. They’re in talks with city and state government, turning over any stone that might have a funding source to help them come up with the money to buy the land.

“We’d really like to have some major donors come out and support us and write us a big old check and let us know that we can make this happen,” Krueger said. “Certainly by spring of next year, we want to identify where the money is coming from.”

Krueger says losing the garden would affect far more people than the 90 gardeners who tend to it.

“We do things throughout the year for the community including growing, this year, a ton of food for the Ballard Food Bank. Literally, we have a ton this year. We are one of the few open green spaces left in very, very urban Ballard.”

That means there is no other open space available for the garden to move to. And Hiller says that’s a huge loss to the community they’ve built.

“You’ve heard of the Seattle Freeze and that’s a real thing. So the garden is a community, it’s my community,” she noted.

Sharon Farmer says she’s never experienced a stronger community in all her years living in Seattle.

“We enjoy the variety of ages of people who come to this garden,” said Farmer. “I don’t really have any activities that are outside my family where I interact much with people of other ages.”

If you’d like to donate to the Ballard P-Patch, or have an idea for a big funding solution, click here.

Full disclosure: KIRO Radio’s Rachel Belle is a gardener at the Ballard P-Patch.

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