By Laura Ohata
Northwest Asian Weekly
As global warming causes temperatures to rise, compost piles and solar panels are going mainstream. Yet, the denizens of the International District in Seattle have been making attempts to be green since before green was cool. The ID boasts the Danny Woo Community Garden, the Recycling Depot, and recent green-building housing developments. At least five renewable energy companies operate in the ID, or nearby in Pioneer Square and SoDo. In the hot and hotter world, the Seattle International District offers examples of how to improve sustainability in the city.
In 1975, Bob Santos and other activists persuaded restaurant owner, Danny Woo, to lease the land for a garden—a place where the elderly could gather in community and grow vegetables from their home countries in Asia. Forty years later, pear and cherry trees perch on a hilltop overlooking a chicken coop and terraced plots planted with onions and bok choy.
“This is a fabulous example of what can be done in a really small, dense, urban environment. And, it is also an example of what has already been done traditionally throughout a variety of Asian cultures,” says Rachel Duthler, Danny Woo Community Garden manager for an organization called INTERIM CDA, an affordable housing nonprofit. “…People have already been doing really sustainable growing practices for thousands of years. So, it’s been happening here for 40 years, but it’s been going on for many years before that.” Duthler adds, “So much of the environmental movement is European-centered. There is so much that everyone can learn from all of the cultures around the world…right here, in Seattle’s backyard.”
Most of the gardeners in the Danny Woo Community Garden are elderly Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese, but the demographics of the International District are changing. In response, Duthler and others at INTERIM CDA, developed the Children’s Garden Educational Program, a seed-to-plate initiative to teach kids about sustainable farming practices.
“The Environmental Movement and organic gardening farming movement could take a lesson in humility,” says Duthler, “and learn a few things from what’s already been done. I include myself in that. And I am learning. There are a lot of language barriers, but I see what people are able to grow, and I am pretty amazed.
For example, they will take a lot of food scraps, especially beans, and put them in a bucket of water and just let them ferment, and it’s like an anaerobic fermentation process, and it creates this nitrogen-rich fertilizer that they throw on their garden plats. Mostly, bean leaves or bean pods. I see people do it for anywhere from three to six months, and it smells absolutely horrible.” Duthler doesn’t know how exactly it works, but she sees the results. “The trellising and the structures that people have built…they are able to use any scrap to make something that ends up being really beautiful,” says Duthler, “Things that we might throw in the landfill end up getting used.”
Lauren Wong, an Americorps volunteer coordinator who works with Duthler says, “I decided to apply to the Danny Woo Garden because it seemed like a really beautiful and unique green space in the middle of an urban area…it was just really beautiful that this green space was nestled between apartment buildings and a highway.”
“We buy scrap metal and they will bring in brass, copper, aluminum—we pay cash for all of that stuff. A lot of homeless people pick stuff up. We give them some cash. And so they get a few bucks to buy something to eat,” says Joseph Salvatore, manager of Recycling Depot. He says, “I’ve only been here for six years, but we’ve been here since 1979. We’ve expanded. A lot of different people have come in since 2008. A lot of people lost those middle-income jobs that have never been, and probably never will be replaced.”
Surprisingly, recycling itself causes pollution, “We get a lot of trucks. As they recycle stuff, trucks leak oil.
People are coming in, and I can’t stop a guy with an oil leak. Of course when it rains that leaks into the storm drain. That’s why we put in the water purification system. We recycle a lot of aluminum cans. When you are dumping cans, we have garbage cans that we load them into. They still have fluid in them and all of that beer and pop that can wreak havoc in your storm drain. We certainly try to be totally green. We even put in a water treatment system to clean the storm-water runoff to ensure that no contaminants pass through us and into the storm-water stream which leads into the Duwamish water way.”
“A lot of people think that it is Seattle and it rains, so we don’t get enough sun for solar. But, we actually get 70 percent of the sun Los Angeles does,” says Jeremy Smithson, founder and CEO of Puget Sound Solar, LLC. At least five renewable energy companies are located in or immediately adjacent to the International District including: Tuusso Energy, Summit Power, One Energy Renewables, Northwest Wind & Renewables, and Puget Sound Solar LLC. Smithson located Puget Sound Solar in the International District because of its central location, near so many freeways, making it easy to reach customers throughout the region.
When asked about market demand for solar panels, Smithson says, “In the past few years, solar energy in the Seattle area has increased 30 percent per year. The incentives have had a lot to do with that, the federal tax credit and a couple of state incentives.” Smithson says that the increased demand for solar, up 30 to 40 percent annually for the past few years, has driven prices down as manufacturing gears up on a massive scale.
In addition to tax credits and reduced costs, “People like the idea of generating their own power. The whole of Seattle has people thinking about solar as a way to mitigate climate change and energy sources in the future. A lot of the state gets its electricity from hydropower. There is a lot less snow in the mountains. Much of the state’s power comes from the Columbia River. So, it is preparing for the future.
A lot of people recognize that and they want to do something about it, whether it’s the small-scale or large-scale homeowner or business .While Seattle has always been particularly friendly towards solar, but Bellevue was another story. Smithson says, “It used to be pretty tough to get permits. It would take a long time. But, it’s changing.” Seattle City Light also now offers a Community Solar program.
Asked about his outlook regarding climate change, Smithson says, “If you look around the country or the world you don’t see the changes you want to but there are some trends that will change. Coal fire electricity is being reduced pretty quickly in the US mostly from cheap natural gas, but as we move away from coal, that is a definite benefit for the climate. There is a trend toward renewable energy. We’re optimists.” (end)
Laura Ohata can be reached at email@example.com.