The continuing legacy of volunteers in the Danny Woo Community Garden

 

City Fruit volunteers in the Danny Woo Community Garden • Photo courtesy of InterIm CDA

There is no community garden without community.

The Danny Woo Community Garden is a sanctuary to its users in the Chinatown-International District, and it is an ever-changing space that demands constant maintenance and tender loving care. Its evolution and perseverance over the past four and a half decades are due to those dedicated groups and individuals who believe in the inherent value of green public space in the Chinatown-International District and – most importantly – aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. From the stairs, to the benches, to the artwork, almost every structure in the historic garden not built by a gardener was built by volunteer students or volunteer contractors. Even the seed-to-plate curriculum we teach in the Danny Woo Children’s Garden was created by the thoughtful work of a volunteer educator. It’s in this spirit that has kept the garden around over the years, and it’s in this spirit that the garden was created in 1975.

They probably didn’t call themselves volunteers back then but galvanized by the Asian American activist movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the first iteration of the garden was built by young people who had a vision for justice and the willingness to work. Facilitated by an innovative partnership between landowner Danny Woo and neighborhood activist “Uncle Bob” Santos, the humble hillside of weeds was transformed into a terraced oasis for neighborhood elders to grow vegetables, share food, and make friends.

Today we continue to value our partnerships with the many volunteer groups that visit and help in the garden, and we certainly couldn’t maintain the vast 1.5-acre footprint without them. Since January of 2019 we have hosted over 500 volunteers, which range from interested individuals, college classes, large foundations, and neighborhood groups. We would like to publicly thank them all for their friendship, support, and hard work. Here we’d like to take the opportunity to highlight just four of our volunteer heroes:

THE GATES FOUNDATION

On June 22nd we hosted the Gates Foundation for their Foundation Day of Caring. The Seattle-based foundation is the largest private philanthropy in the world, and we had the amazing opportunity to host CEO Susan Desmond-Hellman herself, along with 20 employees. While Susan was enthusiastically weeding, deep amongst a pile of blackberry bramble and bindweed, she listened to us tell her about the current struggles facing our low-income immigrant community and the importance of keeping healthy green space, affordable housing, and culturally appropriate social services in the neighborhood. Working with an organization like the Gates Foundation is incredibly important for the survival of programs like the Danny Woo Community Garden, and we are grateful for their continued support of the garden and of many of the programs at InterIm Community Development Association.

THE MISSION CONTINUES

The Mission Continues is a non-profit organization that serves veterans and connects them to meaningful community service projects. We are incredibly lucky to work with veteran volunteers who bring boundless enthusiasm and fun into the garden for each service project. Linh Thai, the City Impact Manager for Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, has worked in the International District for many years. He brings individuals and families associated with veteran groups like Vets in Tech and Code Fellows to do a lot of literal heavy lifting in the garden and does a lot of the physical work himself! Since 2017 Linh and others have been our most consistent volunteer partners who bring not only people power, but donations and resources as well.

CITY FRUIT

The Danny Woo Community Garden is home to one of the most diverse mature fruit orchards in Seattle. With over 60 Asian pear, plum, apple, and cherry trees, we need a whole lot of help maintaining the orchard. City Fruit is a non-profit organization that helps care for urban fruit trees, provides classes, and brings volunteers to prune, harvest, and nurture trees so that no food is wasted. They volunteered twice in September, harvesting over 500 pounds of apples and pears from our trees. They were all given to gardeners or donated to local food banks, including ACRS Food Bank.

BOY SCOUTS TROOP 254

This Boy Scouts Troop is based in the Chinese Baptist Church in Beacon Hill, under the leadership of Scout Master Tim Louie. We are currently the site of two Eagle Scout projects from this troop. Jiawei Hu decided to do his Eagle Scout project in the garden and re-build stairs in a neglected and steep section near the entrance on Washington St. He said he wanted to do a project somewhere where it was needed, and that it would be an honor to give back to a beautiful community garden that serves a large group of elderly folks. “I hope the stairs we built will encourage more people to look after the well-being of the garden and make it a more welcoming place,” he said. “The new stairs will be much safer for the elderly gardeners to walk on, and so I hope walking on our stairs will make their day.” Nathaniel Wai, another Eagle Scout with Troop 254, is currently re-building a lookout structure in the garden to rebuild one that was first created in the early 90s by University of Washington students.

This beloved public space would not be possible without the support and efforts of volunteers, who have been responsible for the building and upkeep of the garden since young Asian American activists carried heavy timbers up the slopes to create the garden terraces. It has truly been made from the blood, sweat, and tears of hardworking people for almost 45 years!

The Danny Woo Community Garden hosts community volunteer days every first Saturday of the month. Join us for our next workday on October 5th 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM. Bring a water bottle and wear close-toed shoes. For more information visit www.dannywoogarden.org or email us at volunteer@interimcda.org.

 

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