Walking up and down alleys and streets throughout Tacoma, one may notice tall green sunflower stalks, tomatoes vining through cages, rows of lettuce sprouting, and glances of resplendent flowering zucchini and squash. Some of these community-produced gardens take up a couple of hundred yards and a few splendid botanical spaces encompass an entire block.
Most of these gardens are organized by Pierce Conservation District and Harvest Pierce County, which connects volunteers and gardeners and facilitates the production and maintenance of over 70 gardens, orchards and forests. Volunteers can get involved by filling out a form online, which connects them with an available plot of their preference.
Although the harvesting and any tending to garden spaces and produce are reserved for program volunteers, spectators are welcome to visit nearby public community gardens to take a look. Some gardens on residential and private properties have locked gates, but plots on public spaces such as parks stay open and are easiest to enjoy the view.
Pierce Conservation District’s urban agriculture and local access program director Kristen McIvor said most gardeners are happy to show off their work and activate their community when chatting about harvests, although the food is grown for volunteers and donations to food banks. When enjoying the view at any community garden, be sure not to touch or take anything before signing up through Harvest Pierce County, and always follow public safety guidelines.
Strolling along South G Street, one cluster of gardens branches out through Hilltop and Downtown Tacoma. Start at the McCarver Park Community Garden on South J and South 23rd streets. This smaller locked garden is a few blocks up from the University of Washington Tacoma’s Giving Garden on South 21st Street and Fawcett Avenue. The Giving Garden is run by students and volunteers, but open to anyone who’d like to visit. Roughly 50 raised beds and native plants look over downtown at the edge of UW Tacoma’s campus.
The Viet Huong Community Garden is one of the largest near downtown, taking up half of a block between South G and South 18th streets in an alleyway. Floral plants and produce native to Vietnam are cared for by mostly Vietnamese volunteers who immigrated to Tacoma and connect to their home through Viet Huong, which translates to “scent of Vietnam.”
Just three blocks north find the Gallucci Learning Garden on 14th & G Streets. Most of the food is donated to feed the homeless and food insecure. There are also free gardening classes and a children’s garden where kids can explore with size-appropriate tools and magnifying glasses.
Across South 18th Street and on the other side of the alley, the Hilltop House Orchard is full of vines snaking up fencing, raised beds, and patches of stand-alone produce. About a mile north in Neighbor’s Park, rows and beds of lettuce, tomato, onion, squash, herbs, and more border two sides of the playground. Looking closer, you’ll see floral accents bring more color to the garden.
Toward Central Tacoma, discover dozens of raised beds packed with several varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers at the edge of Franklin Park. This community garden is currently closed to visitors but is large enough to be seen from the park itself. A central shed boasts a small but not-to-be-missed mural. On the other side of South 12th Street is the Salvation Army Neighborhood Garden, viewable from two sides of the space.
Further north of Sixth Avenue, the University of Puget Sound students tend to the likes of lettuce, rhubarb, tomato, beans, herbs, potatoes, pumpkins, and cucumber year-round. A few blocks over on North 21st and North Proctor streets, vast rows of produce take half of the whole block. The public Proctor Community Garden thrives with a waitlist and active food bank donations.
Another cluster of community gardens can be visited just south and east of the freeways. The 40th Street Community Garden is private and gated, but a path running the length of the plots makes dozens of spacious raised beds packed with a variety of produce easily viewable from South 40th and South Cedar streets.
The Hosmer Tropical Park and Community Garden is tucked just east at South 46th and South Hosmer streets, boasting a detailed mountain mural. Plentiful produce grows at another smaller space at the 48th Street and Yakima Avenue Community Garden, and Stewart Middle School’s Community Garden is a bit further east.
These are just a handful of the many community gardens organized by Harvest Pierce County, local schools, organizations, and other community members. In addition, smaller residential raised beds throughout the city include Food is Free Tacoma’s Gardens for the People. To see locations of all of Harvest Pierce County’s gardens, see that map here.