02/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Giving Garden

Kayomi Wada

As a fourth-generation Japanese American, whose family made their living in the New World farming, I have held onto the belief that some sort of agricultural acumen would transfer down the decades if I were to sow some seeds. After the death of innocent houseplants and various herbs hanging perilously out my apartment windowsill, I decided it was time to actually put some research into the endeavor. Of course, this remained on my to-do list, as I recalled how easily I thought gardening should have come. Perhaps my strongest push toward creating the garden had less to do with my farming heritage, and more to do with the patriotic line in my family, my grandfather served in the WWII even though his family was interned, how could I not answer President Obama's call to service? I never was into the war thing, but community service? Sign me up!

In our current financial crisis, Americans are getting edgy and I have always found going out in the great outdoors a nice thing to do when that happens. Well, of course, when it comes to growing a garden of fresh veggies to help feed those of us who have a hard time purchasing them, that seems like a nice thing to do as well. Judging by the almost 80 volunteers who came out to build a garden in Downtown Tacoma to help feed our low-income and homeless neighbors, I would have to say there are a lot of Americans out there just waiting for an opportunity to give back!

I have been a huge supporter of Barack Obama throughout his campaign, and inspired by his message, I did door-to-door canvassing. Being able to meet people in my neighborhood and talk to them about effecting real change in the community was really amazing and helped motivate me to do more community work. My work with the Obama campaign also prepared me for organizing the volunteer event, in addition to local media outlets, I received assistance from Ramey Ko from, who helped me promote on the internet. Initially, the idea for the garden seemed pretty straightforward, it was something the campus community desired and it would be a great natural resource improvement to Downtown Tacoma. However, Bridget and I wanted the project to be more than just a nice green plot. The UWT Giving Garden:

1) Demonstrates a sustainable (and affordable!) urban food resource

2) Provides a learning space for college students to practice natural pest control

3) Offers a space for children in the Tacoma School District to learn science in a hands-on, outdoor classroom

4) Helps provide food to the low-income and homeless population in Tacoma

The Giving Garden is also a bit personal as well. UW Tacoma has expanded into what was once a thriving Nihonmachi, Japantown, before WWII internment. One of the hearts of the community, the Tacoma Buddhist Temple, is where I attend services every Sunday with my grandfather, now 94 years old. As UW Tacoma has been expanding even further, we now own property right next to the temple, where the garden is located. I like to think that our Giving Garden is a little space of goodness to all the farmers like my grandfather.

Bridget Mason

As I sort and add captions to the numerous pictures taken on MLK Day 2009, I sit in awe of the community volunteerism on display today at our Giving Garden event. The initial list of volunteers grew from 40-something on Friday to nearly 100 volunteers by Sunday afternoon. It was then that we began contacting several of the volunteers and directing them to other local volunteer events. Though there was a lot of effort put into advertising our small project, we are certain that the inspiring messages from our now president had a lot to do with the huge turnout. Obama truly is inspiring the nation.

It is fitting that, on a day when we honored the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we also watched as another inspirational leader is about to take center stage. Listening to Barack Obama as he encourages our nation and inspires a renewed hope for our country, it is reminiscent of listening to the historic speeches of Dr. King whose powerful voice and equally powerful messages always sent chills down my arms. I get those same chills listening to Obama, knowing that he will be the great leader for my generation. His commitment to service will inspire others to serve. His optimism and hope will inspire optimism in others. This, I have already been fortunate enough to have witnessed.

So what did our community volunteers accomplish on this day of service? We built four raised beds and a trellis, eliminated litter and invasive weeds that were threatening to overtake our garden plot, and started seeds for planting in the coming weeks. What really made my day was when I heard a small girl tell her mother, "I really hope we helped our community today," and then proceed to help some worms find their way to our garden since their old home had been uprooted by our weed removal. Talk about hope for the future!

Our first major harvest and donation of produce will be completed on April 18th as part of an Earth Day celebration. I am excited to see a similar turnout as we continue to make a difference for our community and the environment.