If you drive down Martin Luther King Jr. Way in south Seattle you can’t miss the terraced gardens that tower above the busy street at McClellan. On any given day you can see people going up and down the slopping hill tending to tomatoes, corn, mustard greens, and sunflower plants.
The garden first emerged in the late 1980s when Mt. Baker Village Apartment residents, many immigrants from Cambodia, cleared the hillside next to their parking lot. They removed blackberry bushes, dug terraces using hand tools and supported the hill with scrap materials they had on hand. The neighbors worked together to collect water and hauled it to the hill to keep plants alive. Over time, through physical labor and dedication to reinventing the unused slope, the community was able to create a green haven complete with healthy foods, flowers and a space to connect with each other.
Lam Kong is one of the original elders that helped haul rocks and clear bush to build the garden in the hillside. He said that they built the garden here to have something to do close to home, but the garden brings their community together.
“We share the work and what we grow in the garden with each other,” said Kong. “This is where we come together.”
Today the garden has a water system and new terraces with support of the Mt. Baker Housing Association, the Mt. Baker Community Council, and the Cultivating Communities Program. Here are highlights from my recent visit.
Here’s a historical photo of the same hillside garden: