On June 28th, 2014, the Cesar Chavez Demonstration Garden (CCDG) will have a Grand Opening of its newly remodeled space. The following history of the CCDG is offered by the current CCDG MG Garden Lead, Mick Duggan.
View of the new raised beds in Spring 2014
The Cesar Chavez Demonstration Garden was established in 1985, funded by the federal Seattle Food Garden Project. The Project’s goal was to have Seattle, together with 16 other cities, eliminate hunger through back yard food garden education. Today this legacy continues at CCDG with free classes in research-based organic gardening. The new and enlarged garden and greenhouse provide opportunities throughout the summer for volunteer groups to help with the garden and grounds. But all this has taken time and funding, and the story is still being told. Here are the highlights of the last few years and the recent garden redesign project.
The Building of a Garden for the Community
In 2000 a US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant provided funds to enlarge the CCDG garden. The backyard-scaled garden served as an outdoor classroom for research-based, organic gardening education whose programs encouraged improved nutrition, self-sufficiency, service learning and sound environmental stewardship for the multi-ethnic population of Beacon Hill. CCDG was an integral part of El Centro de la Raza’s (El Centro) after school Child and Youth Programs, the Food Bank, the La Cocina Popular Hot Meal program and services for veterans.
View from East Entrance to hedgerow in 2006
Prior to 2006, CCDG was solely volunteer-driven, managed by the WSU Master Gardener (MG) and the Master Urban Food Gardener (MUG) volunteer programs. These volunteers provided free gardening classes, designed and managed the garden, and supervised gardening service learning projects. The garden included a children’s garden, vegetable garden with enabling beds, container gardens, composting demonstration area, kitchen herb gardens, and a native hedgerow. The garden was maintained with the invaluable help of the community and El Centro volunteers, too. The Master Gardener Foundation of King County (MGFKC), Seattle area businesses and individual donations provided funding for garden expenses.
At that time the free, monthly organic gardening food classes and bi-monthly work parties would begin in April and continue through October. Each work party session focused on one of the special projects or general garden maintenance.
MUG eventually dropped its involvement with CCDG, and, by 2006, the MG Garden Lead had stepped down. At that time, Elaine Anderson, the acting King County MG Coordinator, stepped in to help direct the remaining group of MG volunteers at the garden. At the end of summer in 2006, Elaine directed the MG volunteers to create a plan for continuing management of the garden and to identify its new leadership. Mick Duggan, a graduate of the 2006 class of King County Master Gardeners and volunteer at CCDG, agreed to take on the role of Garden Lead for the following year, a role he continues in 2014.
Major Changes to the Garden
For the visitor the view into the garden is the main attraction and helps to create conversations about the garden. El Centro de la Raza, a nonprofit focused on social service programs, did not have funds for maintenance of the grounds, but their relationships with the CCDG MG’s and community volunteer groups made the beginning of many of the renovation projects possible.
View from street near East Entrance in 2007
Over time the garden hedgerow, along with other vegetation, had grown and blocked the view into the garden. Convinced that the garden needed to be more visible to encourage visitors, the hedgerow was moved to a different location. The overgrown grape was pruned, and compost bins were relocated to improve the views into the garden from the street.
In 2012 El Centro de la Raza started a project with Seattle Parks to renovate the grounds on the east side of the property. The goal was to give the playground area a dual purpose, use by El Centro’s Child Development Center and use by the neighborhood as a park-like area when not in use by the Center. Because of their existing relationship, El Centro looked to the MGs for advice and included them in the redesign of the CCDG space.
View from East Entrance during construction in 2013
The CCDG redesign project required the removal of all the vegetation, equipment and structures on the site. In November 2012, many MG volunteers came, braved the cold and rain, to dig, pot, and find temporary storage for the garden plants. Local merchants loaned out space to house the potted materials and equipment during reconstruction. Just after Christmas 2012, the final trees and shrubs were removed from the site to allow for the start of construction. Construction did not actually begin until September 2013. Only a Quince tree and an old grape remained.
Quince along the street was saved
Without a garden during the summer of 2012, El Centro de la Raza, United Way of King County and CCDG MG’s became involved with the Rainer Valley Eats program. Grant funds enabled a series of free gardening education classes to be offered to the public each month on topics of seasonal interest, from vegetables to roses and pests to composting. Educational materials were also provided. Classes were held the 2nd Saturday of each month. Funding was also provided for the construction of a greenhouse for MG continuing education and for growing inexpensive vegetable starts for the local community. The greenhouse was purchased in March 2013, but construction was put on hold because the greenhouse location was part of the new garden design. When the park project was nearing completion in December 2013, the greenhouse was built.
New East Entrance with gates
In January 2014, the construction fencing was removed, and the new fencing and gates were installed. Starting in mid-March 2014, MG’s began returning the plant materials taken off-site in 2012. Currently the new irrigation system is being installed, and construction of the relocated herb bed has begun. A small plant sale was held this spring even though the greenhouse heating and fans are yet to be connected.
City Fruit has recently relocated their office inside El Centro de la Raza. They helped put barriers on the apples in the fruit orchard located on the east side of the block.
The Future is Here
The Master Gardeners are always looking for volunteers interested in working with fruit trees shrubs and nut trees. There are opportunities throughout the year for community volunteer groups to help with the garden and grounds. Education classes will be offered again to meet the neighborhood requests. Topics of interest are invited.
Welcome to the Cesar Chavez Demonstration Garden in 2014
CCDG’s fresh vegetables and herbs are donated to El Centro’s Food Bank or to the free Hot Meal program. The garden also serves as a beautiful and inspirational space for El Centro staff and clients, and the Beacon Hill community. It had been a long journey for the CCDG MG volunteers, and there is still plenty to do.
“It is a joy to work in the new garden and listen to all the public comment on and complement what they are seeing. This is a great opportunity to provide education and have the draw of our new digs. Come check us out!”
— Mick Duggan