Patrick Robinson
West Seattle Community Orchard Manager Laura Sweany believes strongly in Permaculture, the idea of creating community assets that have a long term place. CLICK THE PHOTO ABOVE TO SEE MORE

SLIDESHOW: West Seattle Community Orchard officially dedicated July 9

What began as a casual conversation and an idea in the mind of Aviva Furman came almost literally to fruition July 9 as the West Seattle Community Orchard was officially dedicated. Located on a strip of land 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, just adjacent to the northeast section of the South Seattle Community College parking lot, the project was celebrated by a group of volunteers and neighbors in a ceremony that heard from those responsible for making it happen.

Seattle Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, Bernie Matsuno spoke, as did Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin (who arrived appropriately enough on his bike). Food Activist Viki Sonntag talked about what the garden means to her and the community and West Seattle Community Orchard Manager Laura Sweany graciously thanked all those had a hand in the project.

Sweany described the project and said, "Half of this site is a Food Forest and what distinguishes a food forest from traditional agriculture is that you are growing many different kinds of plants all in the same place and you have many different levels. We have plum trees, apple and pear trees and we have goumi berry bushes, blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes we have currants. Under the bush level we have herbaceous plants with dill, parsely, arugula and many of them are self seeding. Then below that is the annual layer with lettuces, squash and ground covers like Thyme and strawberries and below that is the root layer with onions and beets and all of these things can be planted to be growing in exactly the same place at the same time so you can get seven different yields over the course of a year. It's the way nature wants to grow. It's lifted straight from a natural system."

Furman, who was the original director of Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle, moved to Boston and the project was taken over by Beth Yockey Jones.

The best part of the process for her has been, "Learning that I can do something in my own yard in six months or fewer if they can do that here."

Helen Shampain who is a local garden designer and consultant said, "What we wanted to show people here, if you live in the city, if you have a small piece of land or a small yard you can do so much with very little."

The orchard, which in fact is more of a mix of demonstration garden plus fruit trees was developed in such a way to contain complementary plants and to work on various levels. It is intended to provide real food with a third of the vegetables go to the West Seattle Food Bank, to provide them with excellent quality produce and a lot of it is going to the people who have worked on the project.

The Orchard has classes from 10 am to 12 noon, once a month open to the public that cover topics ranging from permaculture to tracking animals that might be either harmful or beneficial to your garden. The classes are held just adjacent to the orchard itself.

Driven by a $43,000 grant awarded in January the project is hoping to go forward on a three thirds funding mechanism. They are hoping to generate some sustainable income by selling product to the college, get some funding from private donations and possibly by seeking other grants. Sweany estimates the orchard can be funded annually for as little as $30,000. "That includes interns, supplies, and a garden manager," said Sweany.

Conlin said, "One of the things that's really neat about this is the communication between the community college and the community. That's one of the things we're really trying to do is to get community colleges more integrated with the communities around them. That's the angle to think about that SSCC has given this land and are accepting it. We're also trying to get food more centered in Community College curriculums so all the students coming here are going to have a chance to see this."

To learn more or sign up for a class visit their website at

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