Healthy soil is a nutrient rich playground that encourages growth. Most anything can develop in this environment given the proper care. It’s not surprising then that Amy Boucher spends much of her time with spade in hand, digging beneath the surface, cultivating the fertile ground below.
Boucher is the coordinator for UW Tacoma’s Giving Garden, a role she assumed in the fall of 2017. The garden began in 2009 as a way of providing fresh produce to local shelters and food banks. The campus owns the garden but students manage the day-to-day operations.
Boucher got involved with the garden not long after transferring to UW Tacoma from Green River College. The students in charge of the project soon graduated and work at the garden slowed. “I saw this immense opportunity to help meet the community’s needs,” said Boucher. “There was just so much potential.”
This spring Boucher graduates with a degree in sustainable urban development. “I’ll have a moment of rest before my next journey,” she said. Boucher plans to pursue a master’s degree in geospatial technologies. These achievements are by themselves impressive, but even more so when you consider Boucher works part-time as the volunteer coordinator for Metro Parks Tacoma and is a mother to four children.
Growth isn’t always visible. The process of change, of developing, can be non-linear and slow. “It’s taken me 11 years to get to this point,” said Boucher. “I have gone through many trials and tribulations while on my journey, the loss of a job, loved ones, and relationships. However I managed to survive and persevered through it all with the help of God, my family and friends.” Boucher thought about staying at home with her children before apply to UW Tacoma but decided it was in their best interest that she finish. “I wanted to show them that you can do anything you put your mind to and that life is what you make it,” she said.
College didn’t seem like an option for Boucher. In her words she was “a troubled youth in and out of juvenile detention centers, lost and trying to find my way. I turned to drugs and alcohol to get through all the pain I was in.” Boucher dropped out of high school and had her first child at age 19. “Having a child changed things," she said. I had to do and be better for him.”
Boucher entered the workforce and eventually took a job with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe as a realty specialist. “The job was challenging but rewarding,” she said. “I advocated for land owners and that awoke in me a sense of wanting to help others.”
Boucher was introduced to sustainable development by a tribal elder. This same elder told Boucher that she would be a 'healer of the land.' “It resonated with me so deeply, that I knew this was my calling, to bring forth healing to the land,” she said. "It’s been eight years since that moment of clarity and I am even more certain that this is my calling.”
Boucher hit a wall in her position in terms of expertise and decided to return to school. “I developed a passion for environmental justice but didn’t know enough,” she said. The Giving Garden is an extension of Boucher’s commitment to ensuring access to all. “It’s not just about food,” she said. “It’s about using the space as a tool to bring people together to heal and grow.”
Boucher has developed different programs that expand the garden’s reach. She and a group of others already harvested a crop of radishes and held a pickling event at Court 17. “We plan to host regular cooking demonstrations at Court 17 not only to develop a skill but create community,” she said.
Produce raised from the garden’s communal beds will go to The Pantry as well as other local food pantries in need. Boucher has created a system of both communal beds and beds that can be adopted by individuals or groups. “We want to represent the community through a diverse landscape and in creative ways whether that’s growing vegetables or holding demonstrations and workshops,” she said.
The garden is also something of a classroom. UW Tacoma lecturer Cynthia Updegrave teaches an environmental studies course. The course is project based and this quarter Updegrave’s students are spending time working in the garden. There’s also a newly created native plant walk and the Sustainable Hub for Education and Demonstration (SHED). Boucher is currently talking with a local business about holding yoga sessions in the garden. “We want people to come by, to connect with nature because it’s good for their mental and emotional health,” she said.
Boucher is also working on a way to keep the garden running long after she leaves and looking into different options for funding the space. Boucher established quarterly meetings with different stakeholders, crafted a mission statement and developed a schedule for the garden. “We needed a structure to support the garden’s mission to grow food and community,” she said.
Boucher wants the garden to grow so she went about creating healthy soil. In the process she cultivated more than produce. Others will be able to reap the fruits and vegetables of Boucher's labor long after she graduates.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org