Lacey Crossroads Community Garden

The Lacey Crossroads Community Garden was a partnership between Sustainable South Sound, The Sherwood Group, and enthusiastic local gardeners. It consisted of individual plots or raised planting beds – each 4ft x 12ft and 20 inches high. In addition to holding high quality organic compost to grow healthy plants, the raised beds made it easier for people of all ages and abilities to garden.

One of our primary goals was to build community. To get people out of their houses and cars and into a pleasant public space where they learn, engage in friendly conversation, work together, and just enjoy watching the garden grow. This is what some call “the third space”* – a place that is not home and not work or school, but a third space where people gather and engage with each other and the broader community.

The Lacey Crossroads Community Garden was in the Lacey Crossroads shopping plaza at the NW corner of the intersection of Yelm Highway SE and College Street.


Our Partners
Sustainable South Sound’s Local Food Systems Program promotes the development of sustainable communities and provides the oversight and organizational support to foster this concept. The Lacey Crossroads site developer, The Sherwood Group, and the land owner allowed use of the land, top soil and water for the past several years. Cedar Grove Compost donated and delivered 15 yards of compost. Co-workers grew hundreds of plant starts in their greenhouse. The local Lowe’s store donated a tool shed, allowed the gardeners to use water from their tap until other arrangements could be made, and provided general support and cheerleading. Other merchants in the plaza provided enthusiastic support for the idea and the local food establishments provided a great place for planning meetings and of course refreshments. A dedicated corps of volunteers donated countless hours and hard work in organizing and planning, designing and building raised bed, filling them with compost, and planting and watering. We also donated our own money to fund many of the initial start-up costs. However, it wasn’t been all work and no play – we also got to know each other and the neighboring merchants while “watching the garden grow”, and sharing in the joy of harvest over potlucks. Together, we turned a bare gravel strip, surrounded by a sea of asphalt, into a small pleasant oasis, got to know our neighbors, and built community by creating a “third space” at the Lacey Crossroads.

More Context & Background
A relatively new city, Lacey was incorporated in 1966 and has been established as a suburb of Olympia. Lacey sported one of the Northwest’s first ever “indoor malls”, South Sound Center. That has since been partially demolished and turned into an outdoor shopping center. The economy in Lacey is now based on retail, warehousing/distribution centers, a large retirement community, a major mushroom farm, and Weyerhaeuser’s corrugated container facility. The prevalence of housing developments governed by home owners associations, and the lack of other types of neighborhood or community associations that could bring together homeowners, renters, businesses and others, have been pivotal drivers for the development of this garden.

The model for this garden was aimed at building community and testing a novel approach to community gardening. The approach was to locate the community garden in the middle of a suburban shopping plaza where it was highly visible, easily accessible on the way to and from work or school and home, and contributed to making this location a community gathering space – a third space. We also aimed to engage the local businesses as actual neighbors, and full fledged partners in the garden, along with the actual gardeners and other more traditional partners. If community gardens can be successfully done on vacant lots within “cement jungles” in inner cities across America, why not in the middle of a sea of asphalt in a suburban shopping plaza?

Benefits included use of existing infrastructure such as water on site and restrooms in businesses; increased monitoring of the garden by watchful merchants; increased foot traffic and business for the merchants; exposing a wider audience of people to the concept of community gardening and all that it promotes; potential for demonstration gardens; and beautification of what was a construction site. We also anticipated that this arrangement could bring new and different challenges, such as increased scrutiny about the tidiness of the garden, etc.

* To hear more about this idea, as described in The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg — Paragon, New York, NY. 1989 (first edition hardcover) Marlowe and Company, New York, NY. 1999 (paperback), take a few minutes and watch Oldenburg speaking on “a third space” in this video.

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