Community garden thriving under Coxes’ leadership | Citizen of the Month

You're going to be tired. You're going to get a little dirty. But the work people do in the Light of Christ Community Garden never goes unnoticed.

You’re going to be tired. You’re going to get a little dirty. But the work people do in the Light of Christ Community Garden never goes unnoticed.

This is what Jim and Donna Cox say about the community garden they helped create and currently maintain next door to Light of Christ Church (2400 SW 344th St.) in Federal Way. For their ongoing efforts to beautify the city and provide for others in need, the Coxes, together, are the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for September 2016.

Since just after 2010, when the duo took on the task of resurrecting the space at 34249 21st Ave. S., the Coxes raised enough money to turn the space into one of the city’s best gardens. Today, with the help of numerous volunteers, they produce over 5,000 pound of food each year for local children and families in need.

The pair was nominated for Citizen of the Month by Shelley Pauls.

“They are master gardeners that have developed an amazing garden producing over 5,000 pounds of produce each year,” Pauls said. “They are highly skilled and organized. They have taught classes and mentored many in the skills of gardening. The food is given to many in need in our community, and they work endlessly and are an incredible asset to our community.”

The Coxes said they were flattered to be nominated, but they said they didn’t want personal attention for their service – rather, they only wanted attention paid to the garden and the community.

“We’re flattered to be nominated for the honor,” Jim Cox said, “but this isn’t about Jim or Donna Cox. This garden is about the community and helping the community.”

Donna Cox echoed that the garden isn’t about them but those in need.

“Like Jim said, we do this for the families going through tough times,” she added. “The father with two young children who just lost his job and wants to make sure his kids eat. That’s what the purpose of this garden is for.”

Bread before grain

When the Coxes officially retired in 2010, they decided they needed something to do. They got involved with the church and noticed a dilapidated space and cottage right next door.

Transients had damaged much of it, and wild blueberry bushes and massive trees consumed what now serves as the volunteer resting cottage. When Donna Cox suggested they turn the entire space into a community garden, Jim Cox said the church was incredibly receptive and gave it to them on a “five-year plan” in hopes of turning it into a success.

There was just one problem: The Coxes needed money.

Their first stop was talking to Mike Stanley, who had just helped construct the Truman garden that sits across from the EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center.

Stanley told the Coxes they’d need around $35,000 to make such a garden. A local tree service told them it would take roughly $12,000 just to remove the existing trees and bushes.

Neither the Coxes nor the church had that kind of money.

“The church gave $100 and basically said, ‘Good luck,'” Jim Cox said.

So the pair asked Stanley how best to move forward with a more affordable plan.

“He introduced us to Chris Brown at Lloyd Enterprises,” Jim Cox said. “In the meantime, we got a donation from Rotary for $1,500. Then we got another donation for $1,000 from another organization.”

Then the Cox duo got a $3,500 grant, half of that coming in gardening tools. Brown said he had a friend in the tree service who “owed him a favor.”

Lloyd Enterprises came through a few months later with a bulldozer and back hoe, clearing the tall brush and grass that consumed the rest of the property.

With the help of Fourth Element, the Coxes were able to trench the entire property with underground water and electric. That process revealed that the entire cottage and gardening area needed entirely new plumbing.

There was no money for that. So Western Mechanical did it for free.

By the time the Coxes and community volunteers had cleared the entire property, they removed over 4,000 pounds of trash and debris.

“That’s why this is a community garden,” Jim Cox said. “Because it wasn’t us, it was the entire community that helped make this place what it is today.”

Sowing challenge, reaping reward

With the 10,000-square-foot garden finally up and fully operational, all that was left to do was watch the seeds grow into plants — sort of.

The Coxes were met with the challenge of the rainy season, when inclement weather caused the trenches throughout the property to collapse.

They needed to make repairs. But according to Jim Cox, for as quickly as challenges arose, helping hands raised up just as fast.

“In order to fix that, we had to lay it in by hand,” Jim Cox said. “Roger Freeman came out and helped us with the trenches. Got down on his hands and knees and helped us lay it down.”

Until recently, there were no laws regulating gardens. Instead, “gardening laws” were applied the same way a building permit process unfolds. But Jim Cox said Federal Way city officials worked with them closely to make sure things were done right.

“The city really worked close with us to get the planning done,” Jim Cox said. “But once that was done, we were off to the races, off and running.”

The business they till

Once the garden was ready, the crowds came in droves, from Boy and Eagle Scouts to local high school Junior ROTC programs. Volunteer groups like Habitat for Humanity and local churches helped remodel and reconstruct the cottage walls and roof.

Jim Cox says community members regularly come up to the cottage and simply ask: “What can I do?”

The first rule of the garden is that everyone is welcome. To the left of the front door of the cottage is a white board. Written in red marker each day are the jobs needing to be done around the garden.

Jim Cox said he and his wife don’t care about religious affiliation or life circumstances. If someone wants to help, the are instantly accepted.

He still remembers his first volunteer, many years later.

“His name was Neil,” he recalled. “He came up to me and said, ‘I’m an atheist.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. There’s a shovel and a wheelbarrow.’ So he shoveled gravel.”

The two always accept community service fulfillment needs. It’s how many of the frames and plaster boards for the windows on the cottage were done, and it’s how the ramp for the tractor shed was built.

The Federal Way Police Department chipped in to help secure the garden with multiple security cameras.

Jim and Donna Cox are incorporating fun fundraising events for the garden throughout the year. They had an Easter egg hunt in the spring. Coming in October is the pumpkin patch, which runs from Oct. 10 to the 31st.

After vacationing in Colorado earlier this year, the duo was inspired to start a scarecrow contest. It runs Oct. 14-Nov. 5. The garden has also hosted a color fun run. In June, they hosted a food “yard sale” where people took what they needed and gave what they could.

“You find what you want, you pay what you can,” Donna Cox said. “In our area here, you have people who can’t pay a lot, but then we have people come in, find out it’s a fundraiser, and give extra.”

They tried their hands at a bake sale last year, and it bore much success. So much so that the Coxes were able to purchase a brand new riding lawn mower for the garden.

Pauls said, thanks to the work the Coxes put into the garden, it presents as extremely peaceful, sending a clear message community members are always welcome.

“The garden is a beautiful place. Restful. Peaceful,” Pauls said. “A true gathering place for neighbors, and those wonderful people are to thank for that.”