Seeds of Hope
Repurposed Dinghy Boats Nurture New Life on COVID Isolated Hat Island
by Wendy Leigh
When COVID-19 hit Washington State, sending each and all into relative isolation, few communities felt it more acutely than Hat Island in Snohomish County. The curious bump of land rising from the waters of Possession Sound, roughly halfway between the Port of Everett and Whidbey Island, suddenly became even more of an anomaly. As a boat-access-only island, sheltering in place had its own unique implications. It took only a few days for the swarthy water-centric Hat Island community to react with an innovative new project: a volunteer-based community vegetable garden tucked into refurbished dinghy boats gathered from across the island.
After a group of five island dwellers hatched the idea beneath a community pergola, wearing masks and sitting on separate picnic tables shouting- distance apart, the word spread quickly via email, social media and posted signs: it’s time to “Grow in Place.”
A cadre of islanders populated windowsills with tiny seed-filled pots, trays and egg cartons for eventual transplanting, while a truck-full of hearty scouts located and transported under-loved dinghy boats to their new home. Perched on a windswept chunk of community land near the expanded island marina, the spiffed-up boats now cradle a bounty of edibles, from summer squash to snap peas, sturdy kale, golden potatoes, kohlrabi, funny- faced carrots, butter lettuce, tomatoes galore and dozens more.
Repurposed crab rings hold bountiful blueberries and strawberries, plucked continually by socially-distanced community members who trade off morning and evening watering, often enjoying a glass of Hat Island Cellars wine at donated bistro tables just feet from the driftwood-strewn beach and crashing waves. While bald eagles soar overhead, crows perch on the driftwood garden arch and mischievous bunnies hop along the hand-crafted boardwalk built by volunteer woodworkers.
The Hat Island Volunteer Vegetable Garden officially opened on July 4th, followed by a colorful presence in the zany annual Independence Day parade. Masked and socially-distanced garden volunteers skipped, strolled and danced in elaborate veggie costumes, tucked inside makeshift cardboard cutouts of dinghy boats. It’s all documented online in the garden’s digital GROW magazine. Though more than 240 homes ring Hat Island’s perimeter and forested interior, many parcels of land are still uncleared.
About 70 hearty Hatters, give or take, live on the island year-round, joined by a steady stream of owners on weekends or in summer months.
They’re often asked what happens during a medical emergency, especially during a worldwide pandemic.
In a nutshell, the answer is: helicopter healthcare. Residents purchase medical-transport insurance through Airlift Northwest, a nonprofit entity of UW Medicine in Seattle. The chopper lands in a dedicated spot near the Hat Island volunteer fire department, where trained island EMT’s have already transported the patient and prepped him or her for airlift.
To date, only one case of COVID- 19 has made its way across the water, at which point the island staff, as well as ferry and maintenance crews, initiated immediate testing to ensure the virus didn’t spread. According to the COVID-19 patient, official public- health contract tracers who phoned were stunned to hear that all potential contacts had already been informed, tested and isolated.
When Governor Jay Inslee announced Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order on March 23, 2020, it touched every neighbourhood, city, school and workplace in its own way. Inhabitants of the mysterious, isolated Hat Island feel fortunate they could take the mandate literally – by enhancing their island “home” with a “healthy” flourishing vegetable garden to anchor and feed the community in stormy times.