Monday, August 16, 2010

Giving Gardeners: Goat Hill Giving Garden

A garden grows at 5th and Jefferson. What began as a dream of King County employees has grown into an urban garden with nine raised beds and ten round planters. "We're growing our own little farm," says Cristina Del Alma, King County employee who has been instrumental in setting the garden in motion. With vegetables thriving and a view of the Columbia tower, the Goat Hill Giving Garden offers a space for learning, gardening, and giving in the middle of Downtown Seattle.

A year and a half ago, employees raised the idea of a community garden for employees to care for and learn in. With support from the Healthy Building Committee and King County's Health Reform Program, the Goat Hill Giving Garden was born. "We're building community within county culture," says Caroline Hughes of the Health Reform Program. The Health Reform Program gained permission to use the vacant land at 5th and Jefferson until it's needed for another project.

Employees manage and care for the garden on their own time. Hands are busy gardening during the lunch hour or after work, letting worries melt away. The garden was built entirely with donated and salvaged materials; water is the only resource the county provides. The round planters were fashioned from scrap pipe from a county department. Individuals from the Community Work Program built the beds and employees care for the garden.

The Goat Hill Giving Garden serves several purposes -- a demonstration garden for employees and community members, a source of fresh produce for the Pike Market Senior Center, and as a health initiative.

Love to Garden, Learn to Garden

Cristina Del Alma is a self-described "gardening fool." A long time urban food gardener, she once coordinated the garden at El Centro de la Raza, growing food in a demonstration garden for El Centro's meals program. Cristina sees Goat Hill as a place for employees and community members to learn together, making decisions as a collective about where, what, and when to plant. Anyone that wants to learn or share their skills is most welcome and encouraged to participate.

Goat Hill Giving Garden classes include information on raised beds, plant selection, composting, herbs, and plant care, "all classes are also work parties, so when we had a class on trellising we actually built the squash trellises together" says Cristina. From seed selection to mulching and trellising, classes allow employees to work side by side as they learn gardening tips and techniques. Resources are also available online for those unable to attend a class.

The combination of working and learning encourages people to go home and give their new found knowledge a try. Check out one of their upcoming classes: fresh herbal teas, composting basics, and herbal vinegars - Maria Carlos and Jeff Kass host many classes.

Signs describe techniques and resources for passersby. Currently, two beds demonstrate the difference between planting in sandy loam with organic fertilizer and amending with "GroCo" - a composted mix of sawdust and bio-solids. New signs have been posted telling the story of the garden, including the tally of produce donated to date.

Gardening to Give

True to the name, Goat Hill Giving Garden partners with Pike Market Senior Center to donate produce grown in the garden.

On a technical level, since the garden is maintained and supported by King County employees it cannot be used for employee benefit (ie. bringing vegetables home for personal use). On a more personal level, Cristina notes the importance of sharing with the surrounding community, "it's easy to grow something and share it with the community.... homeless and low income seniors, they should have good food too."

Lettuce Link connected the garden to their neighbors at the Pike Market Senior Center. As of August 12, Goat Hill Giving Garden had donated 46 pounds of lettuce, radishes, kale, basil, parsley, shiso, beans, cucumbers, and sugar snap peas to the Senior Center. Follow their progress online.

"We're so excited about the partnership," remarks Diane Carmel of Pike Market Senior Center. "King County employees [are involved in] progressive and interesting things around lifestyle, health, and fitness. We're happy to be a part of it." The Senior Center receives many greens from Goat Hill and has incorporated their donations into a 'Goat Hill Garden Salad' for clients. "It's a lovely, nutritious addition to what we're already serving" says Diane.

Diane also notes that most meals programs appreciate produce donations - just be sure to connect with them before donating. Ideally produce should be washed prior to donation.

Gardens for yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Goat Hill Giving Garden demonstrates that growing can take place in city lots and green yards alike. "I like to think of gardens as appropriate for different dates, times, and stages," says King County employee Diana Vergis Vinh, "just give it a try... if it just isn't feasible any more, rake back the raised beds," and if it does work, think of all that can grow.

Eat Smart, Move More, Stress Less, Choose Well

King County launched the Health Reform Program in 2005 to lower the rising trend in health care costs. They use preventative measures to keep employees healthy, and it's working. Since the program began, the county has spent $18 million less in health care costs than projected.

Components of the Health Reform Program are "Eat Smart, Move More, Stress Less, and Choose Well" programs. The Health Reform Program also includes employee engagement strategies to reward healthy behavior such as health risk evaluations, individual action plans and comprehensive benefits for tobacco cessation and preventative care. The garden is an important demonstration of the county's commitment to these goals.

Raised beds at Goat Hill Giving Garden.

To learn more about the Goat Hill Giving Garden and to follow their progress, make sure to take a look at their website: information on classes, produce tally, garden resources, and photos.

Planters provide space to grow more food.
Check out Urban Farm Hub for more information and updates from Goat Hill Giving Garden, along with an ever growing collection of articles on gardening and farming in our region.

-Sadie Beauregard, Lettuce Link

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Great article and pictures Sadie!