Seattle mayor’s P-Patch, childcare expansion plans get pushback from soda tax board

P-Patches are city sanctioned community gardens that bring people together, retain green spaces, and help supply fresh healthy food to neighborhood food banks.

There are a handful in Seattle, including the Ballard P-Patch, which has been there for 43 years and rents the land from Our Redeemers Church for a buck a year. But the church told the gardeners in February they were going to have to sell the land the garden sits on to pay for vital repairs at the actual church, which is across the street.

They worked for months reaching out to the city, county, and neighborhoods to try to come up with the money needed to buy the land. They finally got a win when the mayor included millions in her budget for P-patches.

The Ballard P-Patch volunteers, including Cindy Kruger, have packed city council meetings this month — gnome hats and all — to urge the city council to support the mayor’s plan.

“Decided on half acre of land in 1976, the Ballard P-Patch is one of the first in the program,” Kruger said. “This land has never been touched by development and it’s vital to preserve that. The risk of losing this garden is real with the churches construction slated to begin in the spring of 2020.”

Kruger said they’d been working for months to find ways to come up with the money.

“We’ve held fundraisers, and we’ve raised community awareness,” Kruger said. “All the while, we’ve maintained our garden connections to the community, donating more than 2,500 pounds of organic, fresh bit produce to the Ballard Food Bank. We’ve hosted an emergency hub workshop, and we mounded our 18 annual Art in the Garden community festival. It’s our vision and our intent to further our partnerships with underserved populations. But to bring that vision to life, we must preserve the garden.”

The problem is the mayor’s proposal to help p-patches is covered with soda tax money, which the mayor firmly believes is an allowed use of the money under the city council-passed SBT spending plan. But the Community Advisory Board created to advise the city on how to spend the soda tax revenue disagrees. Last week, they sent a letter to the council asking them to nix the P-Patch assistance from the budget, saying it did not appear to be in line with what soda tax money should be spent on – expanding healthy food options to low-income communities expected to be hardest by the soda tax.

It was a big blow to P-Patch volunteers, who spoke at a city council meeting this week.

“P-Patches are a buffer between poverty and food sufficiency, stretching the budget by growing nutritious, organic food,” said one volunteer. “Food banks are big beneficiaries of P-patches. Both Ballard and Immaculate provide food access, and meet the funding criteria for SBT. Ballard P-Patch delivered 2,500 pounds of organic produce this year to Ballard Food Bank, and Ballard Food Bank has endorsed our campaign. We begin partnering with neighborhood centers meal programs next year.”

The Department of Neighborhoods, which is the city department that the P-Patches program is housed in, also sent a letter of support to the council detailing why it believes the community gardening operation falls under the SBT revenue spending criteria, adding that the two programs have similar goals to expand access to healthy food, address food security, and promote healthy food choices.

The department planned to work with the soda tax advisory board and ensure all sides understood the intent of any P-Patch program.

The SBT advisory board also took issue with the mayor’s plan to nearly double access to the city’s childcare assistance program (CCAP) and asked the council to cut that funding in half and make other changes to the proposal.

The mayor’s office says it’ll fight for council support on both P-patches and childcare.

“Mayor Durkan knows that early learning has a lasting impact, and she believes we have a responsibility to ease the burden of one of the most significant costs any family has: the cost of child care. If we want our children to have the best Seattle jobs, we have to start early. That’s why her budget invests in expanding the Child Care Assistance Program. As the legislation governing the Sweetened Beverage Tax revenues states, we can invest to ensure that kids come to school ready to learn, including through investments in “child care assistance.” Mayor Durkan also believes that to make Seattle a more equitable, inclusive place, we must invest in expanding access to healthy food. P-Patch community gardens play an important role in access to community based healthy food options,” a spokesperson from the mayor’s office said