For years, I felt like a failure as a farmer. But I refused to cut down trees to grow peas. To make matters worse, the deer, rabbits and slugs ate the few wimpy veggies I managed to grow. Yet, with the 2008 downturn in the economy, it seemed ever more important to find a way to grow my own food. So I set off with a mission to create a community garden in Mirrormont.
Foodies, locavores and gardeners joined with me in January 2009, lured by visions of growing juicy heirloom tomatoes, lush rainbow chard, and iridescent blue potatoes.
The first challenge was to find land with sun in this forested community. In order to promote community and better steward their land, the Mirrormont Country Club generously agreed to lease 6800 square feet of sunny land behind the tennis courts, adjacent to Mirrormont Park.
The next big challenge was funding. I took a grant-writing course and a diligent search yielded $10,000 matching grant from King County’s Community Partnerships and Grants (CPG) Program, a public/private partnership initiative that empowers user groups to construct and maintain public recreation facilities. Mirrormont Community Association’s successful track record with the CPG-funded Mirrormont Park made us the eligible for a small grant for the community garden.
Then the hard work of “sweat equity” began. At the end of the first work party, one volunteer almost walked away. We’d barely made a dent in the thorny tangle of blackberries. “It’s never going to happen,” she moaned. “There are too many brambles, too much to do.”
Despite hopes of planting those juicy heirloom tomatoes in 2009, it took a year and a half for volunteers to clear invasive Himalayan blackberries, pull out stumps, level the land, build raised beds, install a deer fence and a drip-irrigation system, and construct compost bins and a shed.
To meet the obligation of the matching grant, volunteers worked over 2340 hours (worth $35,100), and professionals donated 43 hours (worth $6450). In addition, local sponsors donated $9172-worth of in-kind donations. Generous neighbors donated chairs, picnic tables, and tools. All in all, volunteer efforts and donations matched over five times the amount of the grant, which demonstrates that the King County’s partnership-grant strategy effectively stretches the buying-power of taxpayer money. Mirrormont Pea Patch provides a model for citizen-led volunteer groups creating community gardens.
During the summer of 2011, it warmed my heart to see 22 families growing food, building community, and gathering for potlucks. Gardeners donated over 180 pounds of vegetables to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission that year. Junior Gardeners learned about planting, tending, and harvesting snow peas, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli, and pumpkins, and sunflowers, and made the ScaryGirls, scarecrows with skirts.
By 2015, we had four raised beds devoted to growing organic vegetables for the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank. In 2017, Pea Patch gardeners donated 727 lb to them, which included food from these beds as well as their own plots.
Besides producing food, Mirrormont Pea Patch has been wonderful for building community. Neighbors stop by on walks and admire the gardeners’ creatively designed plots and to see what’s growing. One neighbor said she was so inspired that she built four raised beds at her home. Everyone gardening there says they’ve met more people through the Pea Patch in the first year than they did in the past 2 to 30 years of living in Mirrormont. The Issaqauah Press published an article on August 30, 2011, “Gardeners grow community spirit in pea patches,” which featured Mirrormont Pea Patch (http://www.issaquahpress.com/2011/08/30/gardeners-grow-community-spirit-in-pea-patches/).
Stop by and visit! Everyone is welcome!