Part 1: 1973-1983
Picardo, Passion and People: 30 Years of P-Patching

Picardo Farm

By Judy Hucka
Nearly everyone who gardened in Seattle's first P-Patch back in the early '70s remembers the often-repeated advice of Rainie Picardo, whose family lent their farm for the community garden: "You get back what you put in." Picardo was mostly talking about soil, but his words could just as well apply to the program that his land helped make possible.

In the 30 years since the City of Seattle bought the Picardo Farm and started the P-Patch Program (the P stands for Picardo), thousands of gardeners and volunteers have put untold amounts of hours, work and love back into the program that today includes more than 60 gardens, with over 1,900 plots on 12 acres of land.

Though the program considers 1973 as its official birth date, its origins go back to 1970. The famous Boeing Bust was on, and a lot of people were without jobs, money and food. It was also a time of social activism and the beginning to the back-to-the-land movement.

All these factors came together for Darlyn Rundberg Del Boca, a University of Washington student. She decided it was important for children to learn how to grow food, and wanted to encourage them to grow vegetables for Neighbors in Need, a precursor of today's food bank program. She got permission to use a portion of the Picardo family's truck farm in northeast Seattle, and, with the help of City Councilman Bruce Chapman, got the City of Seattle to lease the land for the price of its taxes. She approached officials and students at nearby Wedgewood Elementary School and the children, with the help of their families, planted large plots of beans, broccoli, cabbage, corn and potatoes in the center of the farm. Families that helped out were offered small 8-foot by 8-foot plots around the edges to garden for themselves.

"The idea of community gardening sprouted alongside the vegetables," wrote longtime program activist Barbara Donnette in a history published for the program's 20th anniversary. As she noted, "the concept wasn't new and wasn't limited to Seattle. Community gardening was resprouting across the nation from very, very deep roots: village commons, European allotment gardens, extended Asian family gardens and wartime victory gardens."

Diana Falkenbury was a third-grader at Wedgewood at the time. She and her family were assigned to tend a plot of broccoli, and her mother Marlene, now 77, has been a gardener at the Picardo P-Patch ever since.

There were no water lines in those early years, and gardeners filled up milk jugs and other containers to haul water to their patches. Diana (now Diana Dunnell) remembers that she and her brother took their shoes off on hot days, and came home with black, black feet from the garden's famously rich soil. "We sure fed a lot of people that first year," Marlene remembers.

Ross Radley, another of the early Picardo gardeners, also remembers the "magic" soil. "It was a nice place to start because everything you planted did wonderfully. It made even an average gardener like me into an all-star."

For the next two years, the newly established Puget Consumers Co-op took over management of the community garden, operating it much the way it is today by dividing the farm into small plots and allowing community members to sign up. Jack Rucker, who has had his plot at Picardo since those PCC days, remembers that for the first years, plots cost $3 a year. PCC was interested in community service, and the community garden also fit well with its mission of provide fresh, organic food, said Koko Hammermeister, a PCC employee who was given the job of overseeing the new garden.

In 1973, the City of Seattle, decided to buy the Picardo Farm property, and in 1974, through the efforts of City Councilman John Miller and Mayor Wes Uhlman (who had his own garden plot), the city authorized a community gardening program to promote recreation and open space. The program was adopted by the Department of Human Resources and community gardens were offered throughout the city, united as the P-Patch Program.

The number of gardens grew quickly to 10 in 1974, and to 16 by the end of the decade. Work parties were held at most of the sites to build water systems, tool sheds and other improvements. However, Donnette notes, the gardens were still considered an "interim use" and some were lost to "real development."

Development wasn't the only threat. Administratively, the P-Patch Program was housed with the city's social services. When a budget crunch hit in the late '70s and early '80s, some city staffers and community members didn't think the gardening program was as important as other social programs that were competing for scarce city funding, said Glenda Cassutt, who managed the program for the city in that period.

Cassutt said two things saved it: the formation of an advisory council (precursor to the Friends of P-Patch) in 1979 to offer community support, lobbying support and some fund raising, and connecting with similar programs across the country for moral support and ideas. "It was still a new idea, just beginning."

There was a great need to spread support for the program beyond gardeners who benefited from it and to show that support to the City Council, said Radley, a lawyer who helped form the P-Patch Advisory Council. (It helped that Radley once broke up the serious deliberations of the council with a thermos of tea and P-Patch zucchini bread, the beginning of a long tradition of mixing passionate public testimony with friendly garden offerings. There's a joke that the council finally agreed to save a spot for a P-Patch when the Interbay golf course was built only if gardening activists promised to stop giving them excess zucchini.)

P-Patch activists like to say the P in the name also stands for "passionate people," and the program has produced more than a few. Jean Unger, who has gardened at Interbay since 1974, says it's the love of the earth and the camaraderie of many wonderful friends that has kept her at it. Over the years, she's spent nearly as much time fighting to save Interbay as she has gardening – collecting petition signatures, making signs and testifying at countless meetings.

Marlene Falkenbury, who still grows enough beans to can dozens of pints, raises lettuce for a homeless women's shelter, and cares for Picardo's demonstration garden, says gardening keeps her active and healthy. "Gardening is one of those wonderful aspects of life that levels everyone. It doesn't matter what your income is or your status, you're just there to garden"

(Some of the historical information in this article comes from Seattle HistoryLink Web site (http://www.historylink.org), The Seattle Times and The City Gardener's Cook Book, published by the P-Patch Advisory Council in 1994.)

Part 2: 1983-1993
Program's Second Decade a Time of Rebuilding

Peas on Earth

By Gemma D. Alexander
The second decade began in hardship. "1983 was a really tough year," says Barbara Donnette, a founding gardener at Eastlake. "There was a severe economic downturn, and P-Patch funds were limited to plot fees. Services to the gardens, such as rototilling and fertilizer were cut." The next year plot fees were dramatically increased, and vacancy rates at the 18 garden sites skyrocketed to 30 percent. The Seattle Times ran an article entitled "Has the P-Patch Program Gone Fallow?" accompanied by an image of a gardener standing in waist-high weeds.

The P-Patch Advisory Council, precursor to Friends of the P-Patch, was not idle during this difficult time. It worked closely with City Council to reinstate funding and services, while obtaining block grant money to add Ferdinand and Angeline P-Patches in Beacon Hill to serve the burgeoning Asian community.

In the mid-'80s, hard work and creativity began to turn things around for the P-Patches. Enterprising gardeners at Picardo placed signs along the road announcing that plots were available, and built a tool shed out of scrap materials donated from a construction site. A donated spade and fork from Smith and Hawkins were raffled off to raise money for communal tools. In 1986, Republican and Judkins gardens were built.

But still a sense that P-Patches were an interim use of public space persisted. Program coordinator Barbara Heitsch and gardeners Nancy Allen and Barbara Donnette worked tirelessly to add new gardens, but several were lost to development and other uses. Without site security, many gardeners suffered from short-timers disease, and weren't willing to invest a lot in their gardens or commit to their gardening community. Events like the Great Tomato Taste-off were developed as an attempt to draw gardeners together, and Lettuce Link began to coordinate the delivery of P-Patch produce to food banks. The Gardenship Fund was established to help needy gardeners pay their plot fees.

Then, four P-Patches won national community garden awards in 1986 and 1987. In 1987, Seattle hosted the American Community Gardening Association's national conference. About 150 people attended from throughout the country. National recognition gave the program the legitimacy it needed. That year, the land for the award-winning Pinehurst Garden was donated to the P-Patch Advisory Council. With Pinehurst a truly permanent community garden, the P-Patch Program gained credibility as a legitimate land use. The sense that gardens were an interim use began to fade.

The P-Patch Program wrapped up its second decade as the largest municipal community gardening program in the country. By 1993, there were 30 gardens, with 600 people on the waiting list. In honor of P-Patch's 20th anniversary, the Day of Giving tradition was instituted, and the popular City Gardener's Cook Book was written. From fallow to fruitful, P-Patch's second decade was anything but forgettable.

Part 3: 1993-2003
Program Thrives in Third Decade, but Challenges Loom


By Rich Macdonald
A love affair with community gardening might describe the third decade of P-Patching in Seattle. Starting with 30 gardens and the Program finished with 65. Staff grew from two to five and a half. The Trust owned one P-Patch in 1993 and finished with all or parts of five. At the start of the decade the Trust and the Program joined to address a program need—P-Patches in under-served communities, and by the end, that program, Cultivating Communities, had established 20 community, youth and market gardens serving low income and immigrant communities throughout Seattle.

National trends in greening, community and food systems excited local interest that helped foster community gardening. In Seattle, citywide planning programs saw P-Patches as vital elements in city livability. An expanding economy helped ensure funding for new P-Patches. Two national conferences firmed Seattle's national reputation as a leader in community gardening and food systems work. The Trust grew and changed, supporting programs to expand community gardening, while continuing to define its mission. Gardens gained self-awareness, developing stronger leadership and sense of themselves as a community. At the end of the decade, in the middle of a punishing regional recession, and with severe cuts in all levels of city government, P-Patch, gardens prospered and the program continued to expand.

For sheer numbers, the third decade was a time of explosive growth. This growth included the loss of two gardens and redevelopment of almost ten including two re-developments of Interbay! The single biggest gain in gardens owed to Cultivating Communities, a project of the Program, the Trust and the Seattle Housing Authority, which targeted residents of low income housing, mostly in Southeast and West Seattle. Other areas of the city gained as well. The East end which had the fewest gained the most including one P-Patch on Capitol Hill, 1010 Thomas. Other gardens expanded, moved or re-configured, including Burke Gilman Place, University Heights, Alki, Snoqualmie, Ferdinand, Magnuson, Bradner and Interbay. Northeast saw the smallest expansion, but they were both in areas previously un-represented, Fremont and Roosevelt. Northwest added Greenwwod, Haller Lake, Greg's Garden and in the heart of Ballard Thyme Patch. The densely populated west end including downtown added Belltown, Queen Anne, Queen Pea and Cascade. Southeast added Courtland and Hillman City, an area deficient in open space, and Beacon Bluff, our first on Beacon Hill. West Seattle finished with one new garden, Longfellow Creek, but plans for a fourth at Lincoln Park.

Cultivating Communities, the most significant addition to Seattle community gardening in the third decade, seeks to equalize access to community gardening. Often barriers like income, language or life circumstances, hinder a community's ability to start gardens, but the benefits of community gardening, including food security and neighborhood improvement, should be equally available. Cultivating Communities also recognizes that communities have different needs for community gardening. Thus it developed three market gardens as a means for low income and usually immigrant communities to develop ties outside of their community while earning a little extra income. Youth gardens in these immigrant communities similarly instructed youth on nutrition while helping them take part in the community of gardening, to which many of their parents and grandparents belonged. By the end of the third decade Cultivating Communities had 17 gardens, including three market gardens and three youth gardens in the four Seattle Housing Authority sites of New Holly, Rainier Vista, Yesler Terrace and High Point and had begun forays into other low income housing groups, most significantly helping Cambodian gardeners terrace the Mt Baker Hillside garden. A new challenge loomed at the end of the decade to redevelop into mixed housing and income the four SHA communities; that planners worked closely with Cultivating Communities staff to insure that all gardens lost would be replaced in the new communities was a testimony to their value.

The P-Patch Trust (formally known as the Friend of P-Patch) underwent a remarkable rebirth in the third decade, becoming a stronger organization, a better advocate and an able support to P-Patches. At the start it was largely a monthly gardening forum for representatives from each P-Patch. The Advisory Council as it was then called had a significant track record and already owned one P-Patch, Pinehurst, but as the number of gardens grew its size became unwieldy and its role less clear. It turned first into a membership organization, and under the name Friends of P-Patch wrote grants to start Cultivating Communities. Burnishing its advocacy credentials, the Friends promoted a joint City Council and the Mayoral resolution supporting community gardens in 1993, and in 2000 launched a five year plan with the Program, which was also adopted by Council of Resolution 30194. Importantly, the plan tied staff increases to the development of new gardens. For P-Patches, the Trust adopted the role of fiscal agent, handling money when gardens held fundraisers or wrote grants. The Trust bought liability insurance to cover P-Patches, and it firmly committed itself to plot fee assistance for those unable to pay. In good years, the Trust manages a small grant and tool purchase program. Its 30th anniversary T-shirt, the third by veteran artist Carl Smool, is widely sought. By the end of the decade the "Friends of P-patch" desired to strengthen its land acquisition role, having by this time become the owner or part owner of four more P-Patches: Fremont, Hillman City, Judkins and Greenwood.

Within the city the third decade of Community gardening coincided with an explosion of planning designed to guide Seattle's growth and give voice to its residents. The ability of gardeners with the help of the Trust to participate at important points in these planning process directly benefited P-Patch. Resolution 20194, pushed by the Trust, called for city support of community gardens including co-location on other City owned property. This resolution gave staff support when negotiating with different city departments. By the end of the decade more than two thirds of P-Patches were under public ownership, which was significant, because this decade also saw the rapid escalation of property values and the loss of two gardens on privately owned property. The City's Comprehensive Plan called for one community garden for each 2000 households in Urban Villages, which is a very useful justification to use with city officials or neighborhood residents and was essential for development of Longfellow Creek, Lincoln Park, Roosevelt, and Thyme Patch all of which are in or near urban villages. P-Patch gardeners turned out for the city's neighborhood planning process. 23 of – plans asked for community gardens. Mention in two plans was critical for funding used to acquire Roosevelt and part of Judkins. Mention in the other plans was a justification for development of most gardens in the later half of the third decade. Nationally, P-Patch was able to attach itself to a large program to remake public housing. In Hope VI, the four Seattle Housing Authority sites were to razed and reconstructed. Recognizing the importance of the gardens to these communities, the new plans included the gardens. Culminating the decade and embodying many of these trends was the P-Patch and P-Patch Trust Five Year Strategic Plan. Pushed by then president, former city council staff member and part of the influential contingent of Southern Illinois University community gardeners, Frank Kirk, the Five Year Plan adopted by Ordinance by the City Council and Mayor, pushed for development of three to four new gardens each year. It also encouraged hiring one new staff for every eleven gardens developed. P-Patch benefited from two voter passed Parks bond funds which led to acquisition of Queen Anne, Belltown, Queen Pea, Maple Leaf and Linden Orchard. Finally a group of heroic Capitol Hill wannabe gardeners made the case to city council in the late `90s about the deficiency of gardening space in their neighborhood. The City found seven hundred thousand dollars, which funded purchase of a site on Capitol Hill and helped purchase parts of Belltown, Fremont and Greenwood.

A huge boost to the program came with its move into the City's Department of Neighborhoods. Neighborhoods is a department focused on helping neighborhoods be great people places. It is home to the Neighborhood Matching Fund, a nationally respected small grant program that encourages neighborhoods to use their own resources and receive dollars in return. The community building focus of P-Patch gardens fit neatly into Neighborhoods, which substantially supported programming and increased staff. The matching fund grant not coincidentally has funded development of every new garden, except one, since its start in early 1990s. These start up funds are a huge boost to gardeners who otherwise would be hard pressed to raise the five to ten thousand dollars in hard P-Patch development costs. The matching fund is a substantial facto in the growth of the program.

Nationally, this decade witnessed a national interest in community gardening and greening and heralded a new movement to address food insecurity. Throughout the city a number of disparate organizations worked in the field but had little contact. In 1998, many of these groups came together to host for the second time the American Community Gardening Conference, which brought in more than 400 people, many of them local, to sample the national diversity of the community greening movement. Two years later, many of the same groups gathered again to host the Food Security Conference, which brought representatives from around the nation to hear the story of food production, access and distribution in the Northwest. By the end of the decade, Seattle continued to enjoy its national reputation as one of the largest municipally supported community gardening programs.

Importantly, the third decade had a number of challenges that ultimately helped strengthen and raise the profile of the program and spur the commitment of gardeners. Much like Pinehurst gardeners in a previous decade organizing along with the Trust to save their P-Patch, in this decade Interbay and Bradner both witnessed fierce fights for their lives. They are inspiring stories that speak to Seattle's growing belief in its community gardens. In the early years, P-Patches were regarded as an "interim use," but gardeners do grow committed to their soil, and when in the early 90s, planners visioned Interbay as a golf course, gardeners were able, based on previous advocacy, to secure a new place at the site. When again in the late 90s, the firm golf course plans emerged that didn't accommodate a P-Patch, gardener advocacy ultimately resulted in a City guarantee and funding for a new and permanent site at Interbay. Bradner is a similar story of persistence and commitment that rises above community gardening. At Bradner, gardeners spearheaded a planning process to turn the entire 3 acre site into a P-Patch/ park/ demonstration garden. Unbeknownst to the community, city officials had housing visions for the site. A huge fight erupted and culminated in a city ballot initiative. Today, Bradner is a splendid community-designed and managed open space with a P-patch, basketball court, children's play ground, incredible art work and state of the art environmental construction.

Paralleling these other trends in the third decade P-Patch gardeners registered an increased recognition of their responsibility to their P-patch and its place in the community. As the number of gardens increased and staff stayed relatively flat, P-Patches were forced to take on more responsibility. Without firm statistics, there is a general impression that site coordinator management strengthened. The Trust published the first site coordinator manual. P-patches began to develop teams of leaders to handle the many tasks going into running a P-patch. P-Patches began fundraising to buy things they wanted. Sites, encouraged by staff, by the Trust and in such planning tools as the Five Year Plan, began to take the "open to the public" part of their P-patch seriously. Additionally, in the third decade many of the older P-patches were ready for a makeover and the vehicle, as you may guess, was Neighborhood Matching Fund Grant. In this decade 22 gardens wrote NMF grants in amounts ranging from $2000 to $15,000. The grants included from master planning and improvements (Picardo), an art fence and compost bins (Belltown), a "Venus" sculpture (Picardo), bamboo trellis (Interbay, Queen Anne), rock garden and community gathering area (Angel Morgan) among many others.

At the close of the decade and looking beyond, challenges, though inevitable can also be a source of growth and strengthening. With the number of gardens continuing to increase while staff does not, maintaining a consistent level of service and fostering site leadership in fluid gardens will always be a challenge. New phases of open space planning, like the ProParks levy, while a great opportunity, challenges gardeners to sustain interest over the many years of these planning processes. Yet, P-Patch needs keep its interest alive because many areas of the city, downtown, south lake union, Capitol Hill to name just a few, are woefully short of open space, let along community gardens. Interest in food systems, and access to food and nutrition, particularly with youth, is an area of interest for staff and poses opportunities for youth gardening, market gardening and production P-patches that we've only begun to think about. With the strong commitment of our more than 2000 plot holders, the growing resilience of the P-patch Trust and our perennial love of the land and sharing, P-patch can certainly look forward to its fourth decade.

2023: 50th Anniversary

Over the past 50 years, the P-Patch Program has grown to serve more than 3,500 households in 90 gardens located in neighborhoods throughout Seattle. True to its origins, the P-Patch program continues to support low-income and historically underserved community members through priority placement, financial assistance, and giving programs. In recent years, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods staff have prioritized achieving racial equity within the program by dismantling the institutional racism and systemic barriers that have prevented people of color from fully participating in the program. In 2022, the P-Patch Community Gardening Program:   

  • Provided $66,152 in plot fee assistance to 858 low-income gardeners.
  • Welcomed 335 new Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income gardeners through its priority placement initiative, representing 46% of all new plot assignments.
  • Helped facilitate the donation of 44,403 pounds of organic produce to meal programs and food banks across Seattle through its Giving Gardens program.


Jenifer Chao, Director
Address: 600 4th Avenue, 4th Floor, Seattle, WA , 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94649, Seattle, WA, 98124-4649
Phone: (206) 684-0464
Fax: (206) 233-5142

Newsletter Updates


Sign up for the latest updates from Neighborhoods

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods provides resources and opportunities for community members to build strong communities and improve their quality of life.