From Trash to Apples: I-5 Corridor Hosts Its First Orchard
What do apples and the Interstate-5 freeway corridor have in common? Freeway Estates Community Orchard! This little orchard with a big vision sits on an unlikely patch of ground between the I-5 sound wall and a city street in the Green Lake neighborhood of Seattle. A tribute to neighborhood tenacity, the former tangle of invasive plants and trash has been transformed by volunteers into a fruit and nut orchard.
History: Finding Common Ground on WSDOT Property
Dedicated community volunteers have been working with the Washington State Department of Transportation since 2010 to obtain permission to site the orchard. During this time, the once-neglected 12,500 square foot rectangle adjacent to the freeway became a home to fruit and nut trees, berries, flowers and community events. It is now the first orchard developed on WSDOT property.
A 2013 Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Matching Funds grant allowed the orchard steering committee to work with a landscape architect and permaculture expert to create a master plan for the orchard in collaboration with the local community.
The final design envisions an orchard that offers a high level of food production and a place to learn about urban agriculture consistent with the Seattle Food Action Plan. The site also serves as a neighborhood gathering place and a quiet destination to experience beauty and nature.
Trees & Site: Permaculture Inspired Perennial Food Oasis
The orchard sits between the I-5 sound wall and 6th Avenue NE, just north of NE 60th Street in the Green Lake neighborhood. The site hosts a wide variety of edible fruits and nuts including chestnut trees, apples, a multi-varietal pear tree, kiwi vines, and blueberry, raspberry, honeyberry and strawberry plants. Apple varieties include William’s Pride, Liberty, Gravenstein, Honeycrisp, Early Fuji and Northern Spy.
Resotration: A Community Effort
Freeway Estate Community Orchard is a testament to the power of community action to transform underutilized public land into a productive urban agricultural asset. After nine months of community meetings, surveys, designs and re-designs, the final orchard plan was presented to the neighborhood for review in November 2013.
In November 2013, under the supervision of volunteers from the NW Mycological Society the gardeners underwent a mushroom inoculation project in the orchard. More than a hundred people stopped by to inoculate old logs with mushroom spawn—Shiitake and Pearl Oyster. The project involved drilling holes in the logs, plugging them with spawn, waxing over the holes and waiting until spring for the mushrooms to emerge.
In 2011 and 2012, orchard volunteers hosted autumn apple bobbing and cider pressing events, using an old-fashioned cider press partially owned by the orchard community. For these first two annual events, they recruited neighbors and friends to bring apples to press until the trees at Freeway Estates are old enough to produce their own fruits.
Volunteers have started implementing the comprehensive plan adopted in 2013. Initial work is focusing on three main areas:
- Maintaining existing plantings and creating walkways and pollinator pathways.
- Investigating irrigation water options, including laying pipe for irrigation and planning future possibilities for rainwater catchment.
- Hosting community events to bring the neighborhood together; a pruning class, a Seattle Night Out gathering, and the Annual Fall Cider Fest.
To find out more about this work and how you can help in the ongoing creation of this pocket orchard, check out the Freeway Estates Community Orchard blog.
1. The gardeners at Freeway Estates are entertaining all ideas about securing water for the site, especially since the cost to establish service from the City would cost $10,000! The consensus is to consider a water catchment/storage system. A planned shed for the site will have 336 square foot of roof area. During an average year in Seattle, that roof could catch up to 7,257 gallons of water, more needed to water the site! In Seattle, the average rainfall is 36″. Two thirds of the rain falls in the winter, from November through March. One inch of rain falling on a square foot of surface yields approximately 0.6 gallons of water.
2. Each year the orchard hosts several amazing events; Seattle Night Out (August) the Annual Cider Fest (October), and the annual Pruning Class (February). These events bring together the neighborhood, allowing the gardeners to share their vision for the future of Freeway Estates, and get neighbors involved. One of the core tenants of the site is to involve the public, providing access to a beautiful public space where everyone can learn and participate in food growing, connect with their neighbors, and nurture the environment together.
Draping over the corner of the orchard is a giant weeping willow. It is in full bloom in mid-March, with innumerable sparkling yellow catkins. The willow is an important source of pollen for bees because it blooms early in the year. The Temperate Climate Permaculture website has all you want to know about this valuable plant that offers many products and services.