FOOD-GROWING FUTURE: Which way should Community Orchard of West Seattle go, to keep growing?

(WSB photo: Community Orchard steward Narcissa Nelson checking in on the crops)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

As all gardeners know, what you grow and how you grow it – whether from seed or start – will change. Not always according to plan.

So it has been for the Community Orchard of West Seattle, which is at a turning point. It’s going on eight years since the seed for COWS started to sprout.

And that’s the length of the first lease COWS has had for land at South Seattle College (WSB sponsor). It began on the campus’s south end, then moved to the northeast side.

The lease comes up in January, explains orchard steward Narcissa Nelson, and decisions need to be made.

One possibility that sprouted unexpectedly – though potentially, Narcissa says, serendipitously – is that the orchard could become a college project.

All along, one of the intentions for the eighth-of-an-acre plot has been that it would be involved with food security for the area. Eastern West Seattle is a known “food desert,” after all. Along with being a place for growing and harvesting food, the orchard has also been a teaching venue – including workshops on permaculture.

We talked with Narcissa this week at the orchard, within view of its espaliered apples (above) and raised beds growing everything from tomatoes to herbs to squash; earlier in the season, strawberries, collards, parsley, kale. She explained that the college has started a food-pantry program, with an interest in access to fresh food, and the need is increasing. This growing space could become part of that.

COWS already is part “giving garden,” with food harvested for and donated to the White Center Food Bank. Part of it also has been open for community “forage,” though its visibility is minimal – it’s between a fence and a forest, separated from the nearest public road – 16th SW – by SSC’s sprawling north parking lot.

What it really needs, Narcissa explains, is consistent support for maintenance. Student/school involvement could provide that.

In the early going, the thought was that COWS could become a large-scale food-production site for the community. Early involvement was strong, especially from Puget Ridge neighbors. But many of them, Narcissa has noticed, are now focused on growing their own gardens. “A lot of people who were inspired locally have moved on to their own thing, and it’s beautiful – we were a demonstration garden, hoping to inspire people.”

Another thing that has changed: The orchard at one point had a paid manager, funded by a grant. She moved away. What project funding there is, still stems from the original grant.

But the decisions to be made aren’t about money or a lack of it. They’re about the right future for the orchard/garden and its space, whether that’s as the Community Orchard of West Seattle or something else, Narcissa says.

It’s time, she says, for open discussion. “At one point, the community asked for this” (the orchard) – “a lot of people put work into it over the years. This is yours.”

So what do you think its future should be? For starters, you can weigh in via e-mail at

5 Replies to "FOOD-GROWING FUTURE: Which way should Community Orchard of West Seattle go, to keep growing?"

  • Narcissa August 18, 2017 (4:25 pm)

    2010 the year of Urban Agriculture! Y’all remember that? Let’s see who’s left from that time? Who’s thriving? Certainly, W. S. Tool Library comes to mind! They have a good system going. Awesome group of folks there.

    If anything, please continue to support local organizations!  DNDA, Youngstown, W.S. Tool Library, Hate Free Delridge, Puget Ridge Edible Park, Sustainable W.S., Delridge Grocery, White Center and W.S. Food Banks to name a few. Band together! Many hands light work! 


    Narcissa Nelson  

  • Gary Michael Foresman August 18, 2017 (6:16 pm)

    Love it and yes, yes, yes.   Collaboration will be such a blessing, once established.  I truly wish for so much support, be it people, the college, money, gifts, and much more.  The COWS Plot deserves at least that :)

    It is SO great that the amount of similarly wonderful projects are all around.  But that can overwhelm local support, and it might take some organization amongst all that exists amongst in West Seattle.

    Blessings Narcissa!

    Gary Michael Foresman

  • Marty McLaren August 18, 2017 (7:59 pm)

    Thanks so much to all who have created this fabulous resource; a blessing and a gift to the community.

    Marty McLaren

  • Shelby Smith August 18, 2017 (8:00 pm)

    I love the idea of teaching permaculture there thru the school.  Leadership/ teaching would bring bodies and minds into the garden for  focused, kinesthetic learning with projects…and credits!           Outdoor cooking parties using food from the garden also appeals to me. Personal investment IS difficult to cultivate for many reasons.    Another thread might be a Therapeutic Garden Group facilitated by a local mental health clinic.  Inviting them in might give good results all around.

  • Narcissa August 22, 2017 (6:30 pm)

    Thank you for all your comments! Especially appreciate the input from the two SSC LHO Students! : ) You both are awesome. 

    FYI- In regards to Students and education please see forward info: 

    Healthy Families Event: Wednesday, August 23rd 5pm-7pm at Neighborhood
    House High Point
    , 6400 Sylvan Way SW.  Join us for this annual
    gathering.  There will be 30+ vendors here to share information about
    local programs and resources, school supply give away, activities, food, and

     Back to School Fair: Thursday, August 24th 4pm-7pm
    at SW Youth and Family Services,4555 Delridge Way SW. Free food, prizes,
    activities for kids, resources.

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