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Danny Woo Garden: Creating space for the community to reconsider self-reliance & collective action

July 2020:

The impacts of COVID on the non-profit sector are numerous: some organizations can no longer directly serve their clients; some are experiencing dramatically increased demand for their services; most have seen downward pressure on their financing. In a city that depends on non-profits to fill gaps in our social services sector, how are our non-profits responding and how can we support them?

InterIm CDA has been grappling with these questions in the Chinatown-International District (CID) – a community that is challenged not just by the COVID related shutdowns but also by the growing pressures of discrimination, language barriers, unemployment, and poverty. We spoke with Lizzy Baskerville to explore how they’re responding through the lens of their work at the Danny Woo Garden. If you haven’t been there, you’re missing out – it’s an oasis of gardens and orchards that were planted by, and still maintained by, primarily immigrant communities, in order to provide fresh food and important environmental access for neighbors across their district.

Neighborhood: Chinatown-International District

Interview with: Lizzy Baskerville, Danny Woo Garden coordinator with InterIm CDA

Let’s start with a little introduction to ALL of the incredible the work that InterIm CDA (ICDA) offers.

Since 1969, ICDA has provided multilingual, culturally competent housing and community building services to those disenfranchised due to lack of English, low acculturation and poverty.

  • Housing Services

  • Real Estate Development

  • Equitable Development Policy Advocacy

  • The Danny Woo Community Garden

  • Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development (WILD)

  • Sustainable Communities

Tell us a bit more about the youth programming that ICDA offers.

The Danny Woo Community Garden provides a space for 70 low-income seniors to grow foods from their homelands. The Garden is the only space in the CID where around 200 low-income children can touch a chicken, plant a radish, and learn environmental stewardship. It also creates spaces for community, as elders share their knowledge with each other and the youth.

The Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development (WILD) is an award-winning youth leadership program that engages over 100 low-income refugee and immigrant youth in year-round programming. WILD youth lead neighborhood projects with a focus on environmental justice, intergenerational learning and civic engagement.

What ages of kiddos do you work with at the Danny Woo Garden?

We work with high schoolers and preschool through elementary age students.

Yesterday, I did have three of the students from the WILD program stop by the garden, which was really fun. They had been taking remote classes but their crew instructors had sent them gardening packages – so that they can garden at home.

What have you heard from those students about how they’re dealing with the shutdown?

It's really hard. I spoke with Andrew, who is the program manager for WILD, and he said that the fun part of his job is essentially over - the fun part is being with the kids. And now he has to work through how to safely, responsibly offer outdoor education and environmental learning with them over the summer, all online.

And when I’ve talked to the high school students, they just talk about how awful it is. They have really missed school. A lot of them didn't realize before how important the social aspect of school is. And, the online format isn’t as rigorous or engaging. It's been really hard for them.

What has gardening-at-home looked like for the students?

It looks very different for each student. If they have a backyard, then it's sort of straightforward. But, if they don’t have land and they just have a window, then it is more limited. Because of that, they’re doing a lot of herbs. But that’s been really fun for them because they’re fairly easy to grow, even if you do just have a window. It’s easy to harvest from it and you can easily make a dish that can include something from the garden.

How have you been able to roll out your gardening curriculum for students?

I've been working on some rainwater and stormwater curriculum that's all online. And, we’ve all been working to move the gardening curriculum online.

But honestly, with the WILD program, a lot of it is just offering emotional support for the students. It’s important that we offer a little bit of consistency in the youths’ lives: talking to each other and maintaining those social connections, even if it's online. We do try to get them gardening and to get them to do that work off-line, so we provide that support and give them the space to show off what they grown. But the community connection - this is the thing that they're highlighting the most.

You have a couple of really big challenges to work through. You have to recreate the experience for students who can no longer go to the garden and experience the food, that land, and the learning. But, you also need to figure out how to take care of all of that land – those extensive gardens and orchards - without them. How are you doing that?

Right now, it's just me, as the staff person in the garden. And it's going OK. I mean, I’m trying not to stress about the weeds and I have been able to find support.

The upside to all of this is that there are more people who want to volunteer, which we can do safely. We cap it at 10 people, we make sure they wear masks, we don’t share tools, and each person has their own little section to work on.

Actually, to step back a bit, when the stay-at-home order first started, ICDA started doing a lot of grocery delivery and we pivoted from our direct service, toward delivering groceries to people in the neighborhood. And we got a huge number of volunteers to sign up in just a couple of days. In fact, we couldn't use everybody, so I was able to easily recruit volunteers, to help at the Yes Farm and the Danny Woo Garden, because we’re very close to one another. (Yes Farm is a new urban farm in the Yesler neighborhood of Seattle. They are part of the Black Farmers Collective, a group of urban food system activists dedicated to providing opportunities to improve the health of our communities.)

We started becoming very food focused. Yes Farm grows food for vulnerable communities and the Danny Woo Garden supports gardeners growing their own food. But we also have a children's garden. And so it's been really cool to meet new people who are really interested in helping out, maybe for a different reason than they would have before the pandemic happened.

We’ve also seen some of our neighbors, who have been on lock down, visit the garden. Even if they feel unsafe going to a store, they felt they could at least walk to the garden and be safe there.

Who are these new volunteers coming into your work? Do they live in the neighborhood or are they coming from a wider geography?

We posted for volunteers on the Support the ID Facebook page, which is a really poppin' Facebook page right now - everybody in the neighborhood is on it. So we got a lot of volunteers from the neighborhood from there. (the FB page is no longer live)

But we also posted through other networks, so the volunteers are coming from a wider geography. It's a lot of young people. Maybe they're newly out of work; maybe they were working at a bar or restaurant before; but they are all really interested in food justice. It’s been really cool to see them showing up.

ICDA covers a lot of programming and is serving a population uniquely affected by COVID. In what ways has your work shifted since March?

We’ve really shifted into a focus on food, on providing access to food for our neighbors. But, our other programming is still important – the demand for our services has really increased. Housing services has been really busy - everybody is really hurting. And we have one staff person just dedicated to helping folks find jobs.

In what ways has this shifted what you’re thinking about, for your work, moving forward?

I’ve been thinking about it on a few different levels. Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot more about self-reliance. Sometimes when you strip everything down you can find new ways to do your work. I’m realizing how complicated it had all become. I really can just show up and do some gardening.

In terms of the orchard, I'm thinking a lot about how we can provide more food to the community and how we can contribute to our neighbors.

I’ve even been thinking about our reliance on the city compost system. I've been having conversations with somebody from ECOSS about what it would take to set up a neighborhood composting system, with our local restaurants. Compost from our neighborhood, to serve the farms here - how do we keep more things in the neighborhood?

And, of course, I’ve been thinking about the best way to connect young people and families to garden and nature over the next year. We have developed some DIY curriculum that people can download, so that they can bring their kids to the garden and use that space as a home school spot.

Do you want to brag about your garden a little bit? What's growing, what are you really excited about?

We've planted some raspberry bushes that have been really tasty. The cherries are now gone but we had a lot of cherries this year. I'm excited for our Kimchee Garden in the children's garden. The saddest part is that I spent a lot of time growing starts in my apartment during March for the children's garden but then we had no children there. But, we’re still hoping to get people coming through.

And the gardeners themselves are growing a lot right now. There's a lot of wo sun, which is a stem lettuce - a lot of beans, sweet potato, zucchini. And, of course, we're going to have a lot of fruit this year - I'm really looking forward to that harvest.

The most fun I think I had in the garden so far this summer was when I had the first harvest of greens and it wasn't quite enough to take to the food bank. But I had a big box of greens and I just walked down the street and I handed it out to elders - that was really fun.

Is there anything else that you want to make sure it's sad about your work or your community right now?

Grassroots groups, like ICDA, are adapting to the situation and figuring out how to provide even more care, to do so collectively, for a lot of people, with less money. But, we’re doing it.

And, this isn't just about us. I'm also really impressed with groups like COVID 19 Mutual Aid, which is a group of mostly women of color, who all have their own full-time jobs, who are figuring out ways to organize, deliver food, and raise money, to support the community. I think we have a lot to learn from them as well.

So I think that, as an organization and as a community, we have to prepare ourselves for dealing with this for a while. How are communities adapting for the long-term?

Hey, Seattle, here's how you can help and get involved:

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