Obama's Call to Service -- The Garden We're Growing

02/18/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Delving into the world of gardening is no easy task. After perusing a couple "basic" gardening books and more than a few websites dedicated to "simple" backyard gardening, I was ready to drop the garden hoe. Ironically, I have had successful gardens in my own backyard for the past few years, but this time, this garden, actually counted for something other than my own personal grazing. This garden (installation scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2009) is to act as an outdoor classroom for schoolchildren of all ages and researching best practices in gardening. This garden is intended to inspire people to build their own garden at home. This garden is to provide fresh produce for the homeless and disadvantaged. So, this time, it wasn't just a matter of sowing some seeds and sitting back to watch them sprout. Really, quite a large task for a couple novice gardeners.

Planning for our Giving Garden began less than one year ago when my co-workers and I were discussing how to expand service learning on campus. Though our idea was in no way new, it was new to us because our campus, the University of Washington in Tacoma, is still quite young. The first step, as best as we could tell, was to create a position dedicated to service learning since the plates in front of all involved were already quite full. We managed to secure funding through a grant and hire Kayomi, our new Service Learning Coordinator. Kayomi joined our team in August 2008, as motivated and energetic as could be.

Together, we quickly applied for and received another grant, this time to fund 3 specific service learning projects; a Giving Garden, a Citizen Monitoring Program, and Campus Rain Gardens. Two of the projects were developed by graduating seniors in our program as part of a class assignment to create service learning projects that, if funding was available, they would like implemented. The Giving Garden project evolved from past efforts to install a garden on campus that had not come to fruition.

The community response has been amazing. Nearly 40 people have RSVPd for our MLK Day event and we are slightly concerned that we might even run out of work. Because this is such an important undertaking for our program, Kayomi and I have attempted to learn all we can about gardening, specifically sustainable, organic and urban gardening. There is a lot of information out there--too much really, which makes it all a bit overwhelming. Our garden consists of just 4 raised beds so it seems like we must be extra choosey about which crops to plant.

After much discussion, we have decided on raspberries, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, chard, edible peas, cucumbers and squash; all of which are highly productive plants here in Western Washington. Since all of the produce raised will go to a local homeless shelter, abundance was fundamental. We will be sure to check in soon with our gardening results!