Submitted by Steilacoom Historical Community Garden.
Or, in the case of the Steilacoom Historical Community Garden, “It takes an entire town” to grow a garden on the site of an old water-well pumping and storage tank station, sitting dusty and decommissioned for decades next to Cherrydale Park.
Since Steilacoom Town Council voted unanimously on Sept. 5 to allow the unused bit of municipal property to be transformed into a community garden, action to plan and build has been nonstop – progress that would not be possible without the tireless behind-the-scenes efforts of Mayor Dick Muri, Town Administrator Paul Loveless, and Public Works Director Mark Burlingame.
But this “overnight success” has been a long time coming. The story of the SHCG’s search for a permanent place to put down roots first appeared last summer in the Suburban Times.
For the past two years, the SHCG operated as a proof of concept within the DuPont Community Garden, while the Town and garden organizers tried to determine if, when or where the garden should come home – and whether there would be enough public support to sustain it and its dual mission: to grow food for the We Love Steilacoom Association’s Food Pantry and to educate people about the heirloom fruits, vegetables and flowers Town settlers first grew to feed themselves – as well as about the edible native plants and traditional healing herbs used by the Steilacoom Tribe.
This past growing season, despite using only four of DuPont’s 96 24’x4’ beds, dedicated SHCG gardeners grew, packaged and donated nearly 400 pounds of fresh produce to the food pantry to alleviate hunger for neighbors experiencing food insecurity.
Now, the new 86’x86’ fenced garden site has enough room for 30 raised beds ranging in size from 4’x4’ to 12’x4’, including five ADA-height-compliant beds. Edible native plants will grow along one fence line, and espaliered fruit trees along another.
“We couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect location,” said SHCG coordinator Carol Saynisch. “It’s accessible for everyone, with plenty of summer sun, water, fencing and many times the growing space we had before. When you’re out here working, bald eagles fly over and ravens call from the firs nearby. And it’s so wonderful that so many people have stepped forward to pitch in to make this possible. It’s growing that sense of community that a garden like ours is all about.”
In October, Steilacoom Kiwanis construction volunteers led by Harley Moberg assessed, measured and staked out beds according to a schematic plan that incorporates existing property features, such as two concrete sheds that contained old well pumps, and a 29’ diameter concrete pad where a towering water storage tank once stood.
The sheds will be painted and rehabbed with the help of Sherwin-Williams’ Lakewood store and the company’s regional representative, then repurposed for produce-donation processing and tool storage, while the round concrete paved area will transform into a welcoming patio space with umbrella tables and chairs where gardeners can rest and mingle.
In the center between the sheds, a picket-fenced educational demonstration Settlers’ Kitchen Garden will be planted with only 19th century heirloom vegetables and flower pollinators from seeds provided by the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic plants, and from similar but much larger demonstration gardens at historic Forts Nisqually and Vancouver.
As November began, a crew provided by Groundeffects Landscaping LLC ignored the rains to trench and install the first phase of a drip irrigation system. Groundeffects is donating all labor and materials to get the garden up and running.
“I really believe and like this cause and I’m happy to support it as much as possible,” Groundeffects owner Jeremy Dance said when he committed to providing such generous support for the SHCG. “I actually have a beautiful garden myself and have thought how nice it would be for the cities to incorporate more of them for their communities.”
Other Steilacoom residents and local businesses are supporting the garden by signing up for beds or donating money and materials to make the garden construction possible. Garrette Custom Homes contributed money to cover construction costs; Builders FirstSource donated enough untreated cedar lumber to build all the beds; Atomic Fabrications will provide custom-made raised-bed corner fasteners; ULINE delivered benches, tables and chairs, and other garden-essential items; Town residents Jim Burke and April Gerlock offered up a special ADA-height “green” raised bed; and when the time comes, Walrath Landscape Supply will truck in organic soil to fill the beds and gravel to pave the pathways.
The garden does not receive any direct public funding from the Town and is not a municipal budget line item…so all support to date comes from garden sponsors, partners and the people who live here.
Just this week, Gray Lumber, Lakewood Lowe’s, and Anthony Gardner Remodeling and Repair signed on as new sponsors, pledging labor and building materials to repair the sheds, garden tools, services and equipment. Their logos will soon be displayed on banners on the garden fence saluting all those companies and organizations making the garden possible.
Still needed: assistance from a fencing company to extend the garden’s existing six-foot chain-link fence two more feet to deer-proof height so that people, not critters, harvest the vegetables grown inside.
If all goes according to plan, the Steilacoom Historical Community Garden will open its gates for its first growing season on March 1, 2024.
For more information on how to join, volunteer, or provision the Steilacoom Historical Community Garden, please email garden coordinator email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.