by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
As spring slowly wakes, and Seattle’s cherry blossoms dare to bloom, the city’s green of thumb are preparing for the good work of gardening on scales both large and small. Seattle Tilth, one of the city’s leading advocates for community gardens, will be digging their hands into fresh soil at Reunion House on Thursday to provide a sustainable source of fresh food for the community’s low-income residents.
Reunion House is a building in the Seattle Senior Housing Program. It’s located at 530 10th Avenue East, and contains 28 apartments for seniors of lower incomes. Reunion House is no stranger to community gardening. Some of its residents participate in the nearby Thomas Street Gardens P-Patch, but Seattle Tilth’s new garden will bring horticulture closer to home. Along with compost provider Cedar Grove, the organization will lay down seven fresh plant beds and fill them with 11 yards of enriched soil.
“Most of them have past experience farming. It’s a senior home, so a lot of them have a background growing up on farms or gardening,” Stephanie Seliga of Seattle Tilth’s Just Garden project said. “A lot of them have been wanting an opportunity to garden again.”
Even small gardens can yield surprisingly large amounts of food. A 2012 study by Rutgers University states that “As a general guideline, a yield expectation of 0.5 lbs [pounds] per square foot is a realistic value” for small-scale, mixed-crop plots. Seattle Tilth estimates that the new Reunion House garden will produce approximately $250 worth of fresh food every single week for the building’s residents.
“It’s still early in the season, so we’ll start by planting some hearty winter greens, peas, that sort of thing,” Seliga said.
Reunion House is just the first new plot in Seattle Tilth’s Just Garden program for the season. During the cold, wet winter months, Just Garden “hibernates” in preparation for the spring. As soon as the sun comes out in earnest, Just Garden has an itinerary that includes at least one new garden somewhere in the city each month, in addition to garden workshops and garden-related social events. The next garden build will be somewhere in the Lake City neighborhood on March 29. They will also build in Crown Hill in May, and in Mt. Baker in June.
This Thursday’s garden build has a double purpose. In addition to bringing a fresh food source to Reunion House, it’s also a kickoff event for Compost Days, Cedar Grove’s annual compost drive and discount month. Between March 15 and April 15, Cedar Grove will promote compost production and use by offering discount coupons for compost bags at three Fred Meyer locations. The closest participating location to Capitol Hill is the Ballard Fred Meyer at 915 NW 45th Street, taking place on March 29. In addition, for every coupon used and every bag of compost donated on that day, Cedar Grove will donate a bag of compost to a local garden.
Seattle has been composting on a large, public scale since 2004. The practice built up slowly but steadily, jumping considerably after weekly pickup routines began in 2009. Today, Cedar Grove reports that Seattle recycles food waste into compost at a rate 10 times higher than the national average. An estimated 30 percent of common garbage is compostable matter. When added to landfills, this matter breaks down and releases methane, a greenhouse gas, and can leach toxins into the ground. When used as compost, the waste is naturally processed to create new, nutrient-rich soil that gets distributed to community gardens and Seattle parks.
Compost can be made out of a wide variety of common, biodegradable items. In addition to leftover pieces of fruit and vegetables (banana peels, apple cores, etc.), egg shells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, bones and shells, and stale or molding bread can all go into the green bin. Food-soiled paper and yard waste are also compostable, though similar items like facial tissues, diapers and cat litter should still go in the trash. Compost-creators should also remember to use green compostable bags or paper bags for containment and disposal, not standard plastic garbage bags.
Seattle Tilth is always looking for new garden projects throughout the year. Though the Reunion House project has been in the works for the past two years, some gardens can come through in a matter of months. Just Garden specifically focuses on new gardens for multi-family residences and low-income communities. More information is available on the Seattle Tilth and Just Garden websites.