The space behind the vast Tacoma Weekly complex on Pacific Highway was, we admit, on the seedy side.
Long before our thriving enterprise moved in last summer, some fine citizen ditched, literally, a sofa in the drainage canal behind the building. Last year, the surface water maintenance crew working the slope under I-5 found it and, casting accusing looks at blameless journalists, hauled it out and set it by a cluster of derelict newspaper paper racks.
There was another box back there, wooden and bent on becoming one with the morning glory, horsetail and nasty grass around it.
We were not alone. Our neighbors to the north had laid out an obsolete wall cupboard next to the platform on which they stored pallets, wood and a pickup canopy. They invited recyclers to make free with the materials, and, to this community’s credit, a good deal of the stuff has been taken to new uses.
Still, our semi-industrial back yard was graceless, the kind of place that attracts dicey elements. I have, with my own eyes, seen Steve Dunkelberger & Matt Nagle, hanging out there on breaks.
I imagined something lovelier, healthier. I imagined cherry tomatoes and lettuce for lunch, squash to share with a food bank, pumpkins and watermelons for their air of celebration.
I imagined catching up with the rest of Tacoma.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland collaborated with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and environmental groups to hold our first Garden Summit three years ago. At it, she challenged Tacomans to build and tend more community gardens per capita than any other city in the nation. The city and county had been inventorying scraps of their under-used property, so organizer and horticulturist Kristen McIvor had sites to offer them. Franklin Pierce School District took the opportunity to revive agriculture with the New Pathways program at The Farm at Waller Road and 96th Street East.
Tacomans thought before they leapt and did the organizing to build seven successful gardens that first year. Each matches the sense of the neighborhood.
Now there are scores of official and unofficial community gardens. MetroParks, The Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Pierce County, Tacoma Housing Authority, Catholic Community Services, multiple school districts, senior homes and churches are growing beets and friendships. Individuals are turning their front yards into proof that food and flowers can get along at least as well as cats and dogs. They’re transforming their parking strips into planting strips.
I love this story and wanted our workplace to be part of this happy Tacoma trend.
So one drizzly forenoon, I ambushed my colleagues and channeled Judy Garland in that movie where she and Mickey Rooney point to an old barn and say to all their eager friends, “Hey, gang, let’s put on a show!”
“What do you say we build a garden here?” I asked with an optimistic uptick at the end of the sentence.
Well, there was a response, but not a verbal one. I had, apparently, confirmed all their suspicions about the balance of my mind. You could see it in their eyes.
So I countered with reality:
“We could ask at Walt’s if we can have the old cupboard for the raised bed. That paper box with the two plastic windows, the recycler won’t take it because the plastic is too hard. But it would be a greenhouse if we laid it on its back. We could use the crummy wooden box for compost. We could order up some TAGRO potting soil. There’s a faucet on the back of the building. We could maybe get a chain saw and cut that sofa into small pieces and put it in the garbage a slice at a time.”
That got their attention.
Dunkleberger narrowed his eyes.
“Can we have cherry tomatoes, too?” he asked.
Judy Garland revived.
“Yes! Yes! We can! We can use found items for the containers, and I’ll order and shovel the TAGRO, so it can be 100 percent local, I’ll supply the seeds and buy everybody a pair of Dollar Tree gloves and bring in an old hose, and you can do the watering if you want to.”
Walt’s manager said we could take what we liked from the back.
Tacoma Weekly’s circulation manager, Colleen ----, saved us cardboard from the delivery pallet, and I found a deal on landscape fabric.
Our publisher agreed to a plan to run a summer-long Workplace Garden challenge with spotlights, tips and, yes, prizes.
We were set.
We whacked the weeds, laid cardboard and plant fabric over them. We hauled our boxes into place and laid wood chips around them for ambiance.
Biosolid Distribution Operator Donald Boe delivered our three cubic yards of TAGRO, and let Ed push the button to dump it.
“People are always happy to see me,” he admitted. “The kids get a kick out of letting them dump out the truck.”
The people who’ve ordered it get a kick out of knowing that TAGRO not only grows the best stuff, but it far exceeds all regulations in terms of purity and safety.
Donald got a kick out making the delivery to our collection of repurposed raised beds.
We hope you’ll get a kick out of reading about the other workplace gardens popping up in our ever fairer city.