Photo by Mike Siegel, The Seattle Times. Jake Harris, left, with his Cascadian Edible Landscapes partner Michael Seliga, grows chives, basil, zucchini and other vegetables in a parking strip outside his home in the University District
The Seattle City Council is working to increase availability of affordable, locally grown food. One approach: allowing folks to grow vegetable gardens in parking strips — the no man’s land between sidewalk and curb
By Maureen O’Hagan
July 25, 2009
We’ve all heard the foodie mantra: Eat Local.
It’s going gangbusters in grocery stores that increasingly tout local produce. Now, area government has gotten involved, too.
No, the City Council isn’t pushing expensive arugula. Instead, it’s trying to increase the availability of locally grown food, especially for those least able to afford it.
“I think there’s a real transformation happening,” said Branden Born, assistant professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington.
Some of this shift involves research projects and nonbinding resolutions, which are essentially invisible to ordinary citizens. But for tangible evidence — actual growing evidence — you need look no further than the lowly curb in front of your home.
It used to be that planting anything but grass in the strip between the sidewalk and the curb required a permit, even if it was just a spray of flowers or a few carrots. For hardscaping, like steppingstones or raised beds, fees averaging $225 were attached, too. Would-be gardeners routinely called the city to complain.
This year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) changed its rules. Now, no permit is required for parking-strip vegetable gardens. While hardscaping still requires a permit, it’s easy to get and free of charge, said Rick Sheridan, spokesman for SDOT.
Last year, the city issued 22 permits for parking-strip gardens. This year, they’ve issued 52, and that’s for hardscaping alone. There’s no telling how many people have taken advantage of the new no-permit rules for simple vegetation.
“We get the sense that people are really embracing it,” Sheridan said.
‘Eat your yard’
Gardener Jake Harris, for one, couldn’t wait, and immediately planted a veritable cornucopia in front of his University District home. In addition, Harris’ company, Cascadian Edible Landscapes, has installed raised beds for a half-dozen other Seattleites eager to capture the unobstructed sunlight that parking strips offer.
Harris says his mantra is “eat your yard.” And the demand in Seattle, he said, is “pretty huge.”
“We’re looking for every way possible for people who want to plant food to be able to do so,” said Rob Gala, an aide to City Council President Richard Conlin, who is leading the charge. “And the closer it is to their house, the better.”
Parking strips, however visible, are just a small part of larger changes, Born said. He sees hope in the research projects, grants and policy decisions that are aimed at broadening the local food movement.