A small patch of land alongside I-5 in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last few years. It used to be covered by overgrown blackberry bushes and was a popular spot for illegal dumping.
Neighbors got so frustrated with the trash that was taking over, they asked the state for special permission to take back the space. First one neighbor grabbed his lawnmower and soon the others followed with their garden tools.
“We were interested in growing food and creating a neighborhood space,” neighbor Nancy Helm said. “In 2010 we planted the first trees with WSDOT permission.”
The land is owned by the state and neighbors say this is the first community orchard on WSDOT land.
“Everything that you see here was paid for with volunteer time and money,” Helm said.
So far, they’ve planted strawberries, blueberries, apple trees, chestnuts and pear trees. This summer they produced their first apples and chestnuts could arrive in the fall.
The project has been so successful; they were recently awarded a grant from the city of Seattle to add-on to the orchard. “This is a model for other places, that every neighborhood would have an area like this in walking distance,” Helm says
Their goal was to transform the land but neighbors say it didn’t take long before these changes transformed their community. “There are neighbors who haven't met each other before and shared information about crime and things like that,” said Ruth Callard.
“It's drawing people together and creating community,” Helm said. “It’s really changed from a neighborhood eyesore to a neighborhood asset.”
On Sunday, they will host their first community meeting at the park to decide what they will do with the grant money from the City of Seattle. So far, suggestions range from adding a p-patch to the space to allowing people to keep chickens there.
The Department of Transportation says while they do like to work with neighbors on projects like this, it’s important to obtain the proper permits and check with any public agency before doing work on their land.
For more information: www.freewayestates.org