Building awareness about poison hemlock dangers 

When King County’s Noxious Weed Control Team discovered the toxic noxious weed poison hemlock growing near multiple community gardens in the county, they knew a multilingual communication campaign was the only way to alert the diverse communities of gardeners who speak a wide array of languages

“All told, we installed more than one hundred posters in nine languages and 19 unique language combinations at 76 community gardens, farms, and other public spaces in King County,” Nate Dolton-Thornton, Assistant Education Specialist and Multilingual Outreach Lead with the Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said.

Young poison hemlock plants have carrot-like leaves and can only be distinguished from carrots by the reddish-purplish splotches on the stems. Even the root looks like a white carrot, but ingesting any part of the plant can lead to hospitalization and death.

Nate and his team did a tremendous job with the outreach to the multilingual communities throughout King County.

“First, we emailed the Seattle P-Patch listserv (email list) to get a sense of the languages spoken at each P-Patch from the on-the-ground perspectives of community members,” Nate said. “We also wanted to receive each community’s permission before installing any signs in them. Second, we used a list compiled by P-Patch staff of the number of individuals by language spoken at each P-Patch. Last, we communicated directly with the Community Garden Coordinators for each P-Patch we visited.”

While much of the communication efforts have been rolled out through signage, Nate said that continuous conversations are taking place with numerous community members and garden coordinators in English, Spanish and Chinese.

The efforts are paying off. In mid-May, Nate hosted a booth at the Danny Woo Community Garden for a Seattle Tilth compost giveaway and spoke with a number of organizers about poison hemlock and the County’s warning signs.

“Afterward I ended up installing two signs at the Danny Woo Community Garden and mailing signs to the Mill Creek Community Garden in Snohomish and Freeway Estates Community Orchard in North Seattle,” Nate said. “Two weeks ago, one of the Freeway Estates Community Orchard members sent me an email. She’d found a poison-hemlock patch near the walk-in entrance to Meridian Playground. Working with one of our regional specialists, we coordinated for a senior gardener with Seattle City Parks to remove the infestation. These cascading effects help to show us how our project continues to protect people from this toxic plant.”

The team also manages a blog about noxious weeds in and around King County, on which they have written two blog posts about the dangers of poison-hemlock and the alert posters. Both posts are also available in Spanish.