Op-Ed: Honor the legacy of Joe and Jennie Ching by preserving their garden

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A magnificent fig tree
Photo by Kathleen Lumiere

A little known and currently neglected historical property is on Greenwood Avenue in Shoreline, directly across the street from Shoreline Community College.

It belonged to the Ching family, among the first Asian American residents in the area. They wanted to raise their three children in Shoreline because of the excellent schools. In 1957 red-lining had made property ownership by Asian and Black people impossible here. 

Joe Ching’s employer, Peter Canlis, bought the property and went door to door asking if the neighbors would mind living next to an Asian family. They all said that would be fine, and Peter eventually sold the property to the Chings.

Joe Ching was the first head chef at Canlis, a world-class restaurant and Seattle institution. A Chinese American veteran from Hawaii (he joined up after Pearl Harbor), Joe came to the Northwest with his wife, Jennie, a Japanese American from Arizona who spent WWII in an internment camp. 

After helping Peter Canlis launch the restaurant, Joe was one of only two chefs to work there for the next 50 years.

Joe Ching also achieved fame as a pioneer of organic gardening. His lush fruit trees: hearty apple varieties, figs, Asian pears, and persimmons were nourished by rich black soil --- the product of decades of coffee grounds compost from the Canlis restaurant. 

The fruit trees remain but the property is overgrown
Photo by Kathleen Lumiere

He had a vast vegetable garden, and let neighbors garden there when he became too infirm to work the beds himself. Before then, he and Jennie threw parties for the neighborhood, cooking salmon and the vegetables they grew themselves. 

Ed Hume, an educator and promoter of organic farming, met Joe when he and his wife drove by his house one day, and stopped because of the beautiful garden. Joe became a regular visitor on Hume's television program "Gardening in America."

Here is an article from The Seattle Times with more information about Joe Ching, and his home here in Shoreline: Chef Joe Ching shared passion for food and gardening

Now the Ching home is returning to the earth. The many fruit trees are still lush, but wild. Unbelievably tasty grapes climb to the north side of the property, and stands of black bamboo flank parts of the east and south. Also to the east, 40-60 foot Doug firs mark the boundary line. They seem to be magnets for migrating birds.

I live close to this property, and so have had a chance to see its seasons over years.

This seems like an opportunity to preserve a spot of great historical value. If the property were to be used as something like a city garden and pea patch, it could best honor Joe and Jennie Ching's legacy, and show our appreciation, joy and pride in Asian American community heritage.

With enough support, this lovely and significant site may be protected as a shared treasure.

Kathleen Lumiere is a Shoreline resident


5 comments:

cksings April 18, 2021 at 7:58 AM  

Yes! Thank you for thus beautiful tribute to The Chings and the importance and value of gardens and garden space. What are the the next steps to make this a reality.

philhayford April 18, 2021 at 9:26 AM  

I would like to support this initiative. Do you know who owns the property now, and whether their intentions for it are known?

KTenney,  April 20, 2021 at 12:33 PM  

I loved this property when the Chings were alive; it was absolutely gorgeous. I think though, that it has been sold and the new owners are planning to tear it down and build homes. Keeping their legacy alive would be wonderful and hope it can be done!

Jim April 20, 2021 at 2:48 PM  

Happy to come up there and do some pruning if a volunteer event allows that to happen.

Kathleen May 7, 2021 at 11:50 AM  

cksings,philhayford, KTenny, and Jim, thanks so much for your comments! This is the first time I saw them.
Next steps are to organize a 501c3 nonprofit, fundraise, make an offer, and if it's accepted to restore the property and make a community garden. Once secured, the step after that is to ask the City of Shoreline to include in their p-patch program. There are possibilities for helping out at every step!

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