The Magnuson Community Garden (MCG), founded in 1976, spent its first 25+ growing years on land adjacent to Seattle Children’s hospital. But when Children’s expanded, MCG needed a new home – and they found an idyllic one in Magnuson Park.
Today, MCG sits on four acres within the Park, and according to their website, is a “multipurpose community garden designed with the entire community in mind.” It includes an outdoor amphitheater for concerts and events, a children’s garden, a native plant demonstration area and nursery, a demonstration orchard and, of course, a P-Patch with giving gardens.
MCG gardener and retired middle school teacher Marty DeLong participated in the big garden “dig up and move” in the fall of 2001, putting in 25-30 hours a week to help build it. Since she was involved in the new site from the get go, she says she was able to “earmark certain plots just for food banks and giving away vegetables.” It was a multi-year process to get the new site up and running, but by 2003, they had enough infrastructure to start donating.
Initially donations only went to the local Lake City food bank, but Marty says, “We were growing so much, being able to deliver to our neighbors directly seemed really important.”
And that’s how they began donating produce to residents of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus, where for more than a decade, MCG gardeners have faithfully donated about 4,000 lbs of produce via weekly deliveries to both Sand Point on Mondays and to Lake City Food Bank on Fridays. During the height of the growing season, Sand Point Housing alone receives 60-100 pounds of fresh organic produce grown just around the bend.
MCG is a true community effort: About 45 gardeners participate in some way, whether by planting, tending, harvesting or delivering produce. Chris Budech, a Clinical Research Associate in Radiology at Seattle Children’s, began gardening at MCG in 2004 and is currently the Volunteer Food Bank Coordinator. He helps recruit giving gardeners, coordinates their donations, and picks up donated plant starts at the beginning of the growing season.
Chris says MCG has 11 garden beds designated for giving, with two or three volunteers tending each one. “It’s such a positive thing. Being able to help organize all of our gardens to get organic vegetables to the housing and food bank, it feels like we’re really helping.” Marty agrees and says it’s great to connect with the people who actually enjoy the food. During a recent delivery to Sand Point, she heard a woman exclaim, “Tomatillos! Oh, I love these!”
Gardener Judy Foley is a Clinical Social Worker who gained a passion for community gardening as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala in the 70s, where she taught children to build gardens. She helped deliver MCG food for about five years and has coordinated deliveries for the past three.
She says, “It’s really meaningful to be able to bring healthy, fresh organic produce to people who might not have access to it.”
MCG gardeners recently surveyed residents on what veggies people like or don’t. Judy talks about the value of “getting to know our neighbors and build relationships with them” and says it was “really fun to talk to the moms.” Since MCG always overflows with kale, they were thrilled to hear, “We really want kale, because our kids took the [Solid Ground] cooking class and learned how to make kale chips!” She says one grandmotherly African woman “waits for us to bring our greens. That’s really meaningful to help people have a connection to their home and be able to eat their traditional foods.”
Increasing access to healthy food
The deliveries are having a positive impact on residents at our Santos Place facility, according to Tamara Brown, Residential Services Program Manager. “The volunteers drop fresh produce off and residents come by and grab bags of kale, lettuce, beautiful tomatoes, and occasional UUVs (Unidentified Unusual Vegetables). It’s great fun to talk to residents about kohlrabi or an unusual squash – what it is, how to cook it (or not!) – and have them report back.
“This summer, the favorite was rainbow swiss chard with sautéed onions and bacon – you could smell it cooking in the evenings as people cooked suppers for themselves. We posted recipes on our community bulletin board. Several residents helped in the Santos garden during the summer, especially during the hotter weeks, when watering was important. Many of our residents find gardening physically challenging, but they definitely love the results.”
Judy says, “We hope to connect more with residents – what they like and don’t like – and do they want exchange around what to do with it?” such as recipes and how to prepare some of those UUVs. She adds, “There are some great cooks [among Sand Point residents] – would they want to share their knowledge with us?”
Thank you, MCG gardeners, for so generously donating your gardening expertise and bounty. We look forward to an ongoing fruitful partnership and growing connection!