It has been nearly seven years since the City Council gave a new group the go-ahead to turn the former caretaker’s house and rose garden at Fairhaven Park into a community center for people to learn gardening, food preservation and other self-reliance skills.
Now, after extensive work to install demonstration gardens and an orchard, and after countless volunteer work parties at the 101-year-old house, the center could be ready for the public by early 2016, possibly sooner, said Steve Wilson, board president for the nonprofit Center for Local Self Reliance.
“I can’t believe we’ve done what we’ve done,” he said. “There was 100 years of deferred maintenance on this house.”
Built in 1914, the 960-square-foot house was occupied by a park caretaker until the mid-1980s. Later, a youth hostel operated in the basement but closed. The house fell into further disrepair, and poor soil and hungry deer brought an end to the once-bountiful rose garden.
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The 1.4-acre site abuts Chuckanut Drive, just north of Fairhaven Park and across the street from Fairhaven Middle School. A third of the open land remains lawn. A third, at the north end, is home to about 15 young food trees — plum, peach, pear, apple.
The other third is filled with five lush gardens; cared for by a local school, a social service group, a church, an heirloom plant project, and a medicinal plant endeavor. The produce goes to the students, clients and to food banks.
A newly installed 2,500-gallon plastic holding tank will help nourish the demonstration gardens with water gathered from the metal roof atop the timber-frame gatehouse in the middle of the deer fence that lines the property along Chuckanut Drive.
The center’s vision is to expand the array of gardens, and to use the house for community meetings and events, and for classes and workshops on cooking, food preservation, and other self-help know-how.
“This will be a combination of Hovander Park and the Roeder Home rolled into one,” Wilson said.
People can see the improvements when the Whatcom SkillShare Faire is held Aug. 29 and 30 at the center and at Fairhaven Park.
Thanks to $40,000 in grants and donations, plus donated and discounted materials and labor, the leaky, dirty, decrepit house is nearly finished, up to code, improved, and ready for public use for the first time in its existence.
The two-bedroom house has been reroofed, rewired, repainted and replumbed. The front porch has been restored and the rear porch is being redone. The master bedroom now opens into the living room, providing more space for classes and meetings. The smaller bedroom likely will be used as an office.
The house has new gutters, a new paint job, improved parking, and a heat pump to replace its old gas furnace. The kitchen is being revamped so it can be used by groups and educators. Appliances, flooring and other finishing touches are coming soon.
Board members budgeted $22,000 to finish the house this year, and work is on target and on budget, with four to six volunteers doing the work on Saturday mornings, Wilson said.
The basement is now being used to store construction materials but later might house a seed bank and a root cellar, he said.
Change of focus
The five board members are “hands-on” people active with the gardens and the house repairs, Wilson said. As the house becomes ready for occupancy, the focus will shift from creating the center to making it work well serving the community.
“It will be an interesting transition for us,” Wilson said. “We haven’t figured it all out, to be sure.”
Wilson took last year off from his work at a Montessori preschool to concentrate on the center. He was a founder of the center, and remains committed to getting it up and running.
“It’s my nature,” he said. “If I say I’m going to do something, I don’t let it go. I’m a tortoise.”
Center for Local Self Reliance
To support the center with volunteer help or donations, call 360-671-3380 or go to caretakershouse.org.
The Whatcom SkillShare Faire takes place Aug. 29-30 at the Center for Local Self Reliance and nearby Fairhaven Park.
The event features short classes, workshops, and hands-on demonstrations of a variety of skills that increase self-reliance and community resilience. Popular topics from previous fairs include how to raise rabbits and poultry, scything, tool sharpening, and beekeeping.
Admission is $15 general, $5 for kids 9-15 with a parent, and free for those older than 70 and younger than 9. For a schedule, advance tickets, and registration to share a skill, go to whatcomskillsharefaire.org.