Corina Pfeil plans to grow Swiss chard, spinach, beets, some Chinese greens, cucumbers and Brussels sprouts in her plot at the Kenmore Community Garden.
The Kenmore resident is among eight other gardeners who have a space reserved for their very own garden at Kenmore’s first community garden, located at Northlake Lutheran Church.
“I have an apartment,” Pfeil said. “So other than your deck space — we have very strict rules in our apartment complex, about just one planter and just one chair on your deck — there isn’t really an opportunity to have, other than a few planter boxes, a porch garden.”
The United States Department of Agriculture states community gardens are plots of land in urban areas that are rented by individuals or groups for private gardens or for the benefit of the people caring for the garden. The first in the United States were apparently started in vacant lots during the economic recession of the 1890s. Detroit was the first city to create an extensive funding system for them, according Smithsonian Gardens – Community of Gardens’ website.
“It’s a great way for the community to be able to garden if you don’t have a yard,” Heidi Braund, an organizer of the garden and member of Northlake Lutheran Church, said. “And I just like that idea that everybody should be able to get their hands in the dirt.”
Then there’s the community aspect as well.
Braund, who has lived in Kenmore for 56 years, said Kenmore has had a strong sense of what it means to be a community, but as she’s seen changes and growth in the city throughout the years, “it’s something that we really need to work harder at.”
Although the garden is separate from the church and hopes to eventually become a nonprofit, Northlake Lutheran Church pastor Anja Helmon had the idea to start the Kenmore Community Garden when she began preaching at the church three years ago.
“When I first walked the grounds, the first thing that hit me was this would be a great spot for a community garden,” she said. “But they tell you in seminary, you don’t make any changes the first year.”
Prior to joining the seminary, Helmon had worked at Microsoft.
Helmon’s idea for a garden flourished after she attended the city’s “Imagine Kenmore” event. At the event, community members were tasked with coming up features they’d like to see in the city. One of the activities included sticking Post-It notes in various categories.
“On multiple categories I saw Post-It notes that said ‘community garden,’” Helmon said. “And so that, to me, was the verification.”
As Helmon started reaching out to community members, such as Lisa Keller and Dave Lowe, she began to accumulate a team of volunteers and before she knew it, there were 40 helpers at a St. Patrick’s Day work party this year building plots for the garden.
Each 80-square-foot plot was filled with soil from Woodland Park Zoo (called “Zoo Doo”) and $1,800 worth of dirt from Pacific Top Soil that two committee volunteers paid for. Lowe’s company Lowridge On-Site Technology LLC donated the lumber for the plots.
In addition, Northshore Utility District also pitched in to help with water and sewer costs.
Alan Nelson, the general manager of NUD, said the district’s board voted to allow the garden to use an existing process to water the garden through a temporary-use meter. The meters are usually rented to construction sites and hook up to fire hydrants. This process allows those who use the meters to bypass sewage charges, Nelson said. But, instead of charging the church for renting the meter, Northshore is staging one of its meters at the church. Additionally, for the water they do use, the garden organizers are getting billed a general public benefit rate, which is the same rate a single family home would be billed, versus a more-expensive irrigation rate.
Even the city of Kenmore has opted to give the garden as much as $3,000 in grants but cannot relinquish the funds until the garden is its own nonprofit and separate from the church.
The first of those funds would go toward paying back the committee volunteers who paid for the dirt.
But until that comes into fruition, the garden committee hopes to get funding from King County.
Pfeil set up a meeting with King County Council member Rod Dembowski to understand what what options were available to them on a regional level.
“There are some under-utilized grants for urban gardens so I thought well we’re kind of stuck at the city level, I can reach out to the county level,” Pfeil said. “Because at the regional level, they can have a little bit more flexibility with grants.”
Pfeil added the county’s grant schedule and the frequency of when projects come up allows the county to have more flexibility to offer 501(c)3 assistance or tax shelter.
Until then, funds they do receive from those renting plots will go right back into the garden. It costs $50 a year and eight required volunteer hours dedicated toward the betterment of the garden. Although there are seven gardeners on a wait list, the committee hopes to build 12 more plots.
One of those plots may be saved for Camp Unity, an organized encampment for people who are homeless.
“Since Camp Unity’s going to be here for about four months, and it’s right during the growing season, we’re hoping to let them have a plot so they can grow their own garden,” Braund said.
Camp Unity moved to the church during the first weekend of May.
Another plot could be saved for Kenmore Elementary School.
“It hits all those early childhood development education marks,” Pfeil said of the garden’s impact on children. “Life sciences, learning and growing and, of course, it fits with programs like breakfast after the bell, so it’s a perfect community partnership project and one of those things that fosters family and community engagement.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be able to help provide our local elementary schools. There’s a lot of hunger needs, a lot of kids that are on free and reduced lunch that attend that school and sometimes their only meal can be the school meal or the two meals they might get at school on a regular basis.”
After all of the plots are built and funding is more secure, the garden committee has goals of planting fruit trees and berries in the back of the church’s property as well as opening up the area to community potlucks and events.
“There’s been a lot of talk with the committee about organizing potlucks, people love the playground right there and there’s picnic tables,” Helmon said. “They feel like this is going to be like a community center. We’re planning to have a block party this summer in August, which is going to be held right around here. We really want it to be a community gathering location.”
To join the garden community and reserve a plot, email firstname.lastname@example.org.