In 2008, Wallingford resident Cyrus Appell built an 8×10 foot greenhouse in his backyard. Alongside, he built a fish pond complete with a burbling stream, and envisioned himself relaxing amid a conservatory of backyard tropical plants while enjoying the melodious sound of the water.
That plan never happened.
After the greenhouse was completed (and before Cyrus had a chance to fill it with ornamentals), he attended a meeting of Sustainable Wallingford. One of the projects discussed on that fateful day was called “Growing Food, Growing Community,” an endeavor in which participants could “learn from our neighbors and share what we know about growing food; develop programs to engage the community; and provide fresh produce to those who have limited access to it.” This vision inspired Cyrus to offer the use of his new greenhouse as a resource for the Wallingford gardening community.
He has never looked back.
When I met with Cyrus for a tour of the greenhouse, he proudly recounted for me the successes of the Community Greenhouse: thousands of starts grown for the giving garden at Marra Farm (an urban farm project that supplies thousands of pounds of food for the hungry each year along with offering urban farming programs); thousands more starts donated to the 65 giving gardens scattered throughout Seattle’s P-Patches; the growth of a local network of volunteers who tend the plants at least one hour a week; and meeting new people and getting to know neighbors united by a common purpose.
Those plans include streamlining the process of matching plant starts with giving gardens. Historically, volunteers have driven truckloads full of seedlings to Solid Ground’s headquarters, hauled them through the building and upstairs, and left them sitting in hallways and offices awaiting distribution. This next year, the seedlings will be ferried to the Interbay P-Patch, which will serve as a delivery hub for other P-Patches. Additionally, contacts will be established at each P-Patch so that greenhouse gardeners know exactly what plants to sow and how many to grow.
The Wallingford Community Greenhouse also wants to grow. Already, one former volunteer who moved to Ballard has replicated the community greenhouse idea, raising a new crew of volunteers and a few thousand plant starts. Cyrus envisions a network of greenhouses throughout the city, supporting a dream of urban communities raising more of their own food.
“We’ve pretty much saturated the giving garden need,” explained Cyrus. “Now it’s time for us to expand by providing starts to neighbors and teaching them to plant their own gardens. Every year food security is a bigger problem. But it’s not just about the food growing. It’s also about building community.”
Cyrus is so intent on building community that he distributes produce from his own plot (located in his neighbor’s yard) throughout a several block radius of neighbors who welcome his late summer deliveries of tomatoes and other delights. Even Steve the mailman makes a regular trip through the garden on his mail route. And after tasting Cyrus’s tomatoes, I can understand why!
“We get rave reviews on the quality of our starts,” Cyrus confessed to me. “ I think it’s because we’re small, and non-commercial. We start our plants far apart. We take a lot of care when transplanting.”
And I think it’s also because of the love and giving spirit that the team of volunteers is sharing. The generosity of heart that Cyrus has shown in opening his yard to his neighbors. The tender care that Agnes takes in her frequent visits to the greenhouse. The expertise that Helen shares with new gardeners. The time that Abby puts into getting everyone organized. The hours that everyone devotes to growing food and growing community. Right here in Wallingford.
If you have every wanted to learn more about starting plants from seed, if you can operate a watering can, or if you want to meet some really great neighbors, you can get involved! Cyrus said that volunteers usually meet in winter for a workshop, with the community greenhouse getting underway in February. Contact Abby for more info: [email protected].