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Autumn 2006 | Volume 29, Number 4 | Features

Akemi’s Garden

Young Daughter of an SPU Alumna Plants A Garden, Inspires A Community

AKEMI TAKAHASHI, 5, loves to show people her garden. “These are the squash, that’s the lettuce, and those are the baby carrots over there,” says the daughter of Seattle Pacific University alumna Kathy Kestle Takahashi ’94 as she points her small hand in the direction of a row of frazzled-looking greens sprouting up out of the soil. Akemi smiles as if she’s about ready to divulge a big secret. “Sometimes I dig them up a little to look at them,” she says, grinning from ear to ear.

After kindergarten each day, Akemi Takahashi eagerly tends to her garden. Here, she harvests a row of thriving carrots.

While many children plant gardens with the help of their parents, Akemi’s vegetable plot is more than a seasonal agriculture lesson. “I had a really poor neighbor across the street, and she wasn’t taken care of very good,” explains the kindergartener. “Every week they had to go to the food bank. She was really hungry.

“Some people don’t get three meals a day; sometimes they only get one or two,” continues Akemi. “I wanted to help people like my friend.” So with $7 she pulled from her piggy bank, Akemi bought seeds and planted a garden. She hoped to sell her produce to friends, family, and neighbors, and donate all of the money to the Seattle-based hunger relief agency Northwest Harvest.

Selecting the name “Akemi’s Hungry Kids” for her fledgling operation, Akemi diligently watered and weeded. When her garden produced a bumper crop of lettuce and radishes, she loaded her red wagon.

“I’m selling these vegetables to raise money for hungry kids,” she said to friends and neighbors, handing out her homemade business cards with the title “master gardener” under her name. Some paid the going rate, 50 cents per bag, and others offered more.

“She has a big presence,” says her mother. “People feel motivated to give more.” Akemi’s story, which appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and on King 5 News, caught the interest of the local community, and as a result, she has now raised more than $1,500 for Northwest Harvest. A fund has been established at U.S. Bank for people who want to contribute to “Akemi’s Hungry Kids.”

Kathy Takahashi says it can be difficult to broach the topic of hunger with children. “I thought a garden would be a good way to talk about those sorts of things,” she says. “The corn was stolen by crows, and the green onions never had a chance, but there are a lot of lessons the garden has provided.”

Akemi likes to talk about those lessons, and the ones she’s learned in her church Sunday School class. “If you can give people food, God is very happy,” she says. “Whatever job you do makes him very proud.” She pauses before adding, “Except selling drugs.”

Northwest Harvest, which receives no local, state, or federal funding, is dependent upon community support. Donations have been falling in past years, which is particularly alarming to the organization since more than 40 percent of the people it serves are children. “It’s remarkable that parents are showing their kids the importance of social responsibility,” says Maureen Brindle, publications manager for the organization. “We love to see kids doing things to help the hungry. Those are the most meaningful donations.”

“The garden, while being a lot of hard work, provided so much for us as a family and for Akemi in terms of lessons and blessing,” says Kathy Takahashi. “And the fact that the money will go to feed hungry people is God’s total provision and answer to our prayers.”

This year, Akemi Takahashi will continue to raise money for hungry children, all while inspiring people 10 times her age. “I wish I could give them a squash this big,” she says, holding out her arms wide. “Then I could feed lots of hungry kids.”


— By sarah jio (
— photos by mike siegel

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