Starting with P Patches
For years I thought a p-patch was a “pea patch”, a place one grows peas… That the P stands for Picardo, because the original p-patch was Picardo farm, home of the Picardo family, is a much more interesting story. It also explains why a “p-patch” is particular to Seattle.
When I started photographing agricultural projects, it was the long established, visually diverse p-patches around the city that first drew my attention. The 40 year old p-patch program is run by the department of neighborhoods, which allots garden plots in over 80 locations to more than 350 individuals and families whose many cultures and languages reflect the diversity of Seattle’s population.
Danny Woo Community Garden
Different from p-patches, Community gardens have the option of prioritizing farmers to grow food in their garden plots.
Danny Woo Community garden sits on a hillside in the International District just below I-5 and a block uphill from the businesses on Jackson Street. The Smith Tower acts as sentry, its pyramidal top stories watching over the patchwork of terraced plots growing both familiar and unfamiliar fruits and vegetables.
The garden serves low to middle income individuals and families, largely from neighboring buildings. Most are immigrants or first generation Americans with roots in China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and the Philippines. The majority do not speak English or speak it only as a second language.
Volunteers from City Fruit, an organization which cares for fruit trees in Seattle parks, tend the orchard that shades the upper terraces.
I visited the garden to photograph for City Fruit on a warm afternoon in late August, when the Asian Pear trees were in full fruit, and the gardens flush with ripening tomatoes and green beans alongside bitter melon, bok choy, and chayote.
Though I consider myself fairly literate in the world of edible plants, I had to go home afterward and look on google images for things like “spiny pear shaped fruit” to figure out what some of the plants were that I was seeing.
With only a few nappers and City Fruit volunteers for companions, I felt free to explore. The volunteers tackled major pruning and fruit picking while I wandered among the terraces with my camera. Mature annuals and vines hid parts of the garden from view, so I climbed over and around things like a child sneaking up on gnomes or fairies.
Unusual materials are everywhere, pressed into service supporting climbers and top heavy flora. I found myself feeling a little like Alice looking up at towering plants, examining the ingenious construction and marveling at the way each plot’s personality reflected the individuality of the owner.
The chickens in the coop dominating the lower terrace may have one of the better views of any farm animals in the city, and considering the abundance of damaged fruit they had to choose from, they were definitely living the chicken version of the good life. My understanding is that they are cared for and owned by farmers who live in nearby apartment buildings.
I’d like to see this project in the spring, to watch the farmers assemble the mishmash of salvaged materials that make each small plot their personal creation. I’d like to ask them about the fruit and vegetables, how they prepare them, and how is it that they grow in the Pacific Northwest. I’d like to know about the chickens and how they care for them as a community and if the flavor of the eggs or the color of the yolk changes with all the fruit they eat. But these questions will have to wait for spring or early summer and will depend on whether or not I can find someone to explain in a language that I can understand.