Marra Farm serves with seeds, soil and sunshine

Harvesting chard at Marra Farm

Nutrition & Garden Educator Pamela Ronson, Dani Ladyka from Apple Corps and volunteer Sarah Rehdner harvest chard at Marra Farm.

Recently, I bused to the South Park neighborhood to volunteer at Solid Ground’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm, a project run by our Lettuce Link program. Farmer Scott Behmer wasn’t surprised when I arrived late: “This is a really underserved area, regarding transportation and lots of other services. And really, that’s why we’re here.”

Scott explained that the farm has two main functions: food production and education, or in other words, “fighting the symptoms and fighting the causes.” He added, “Food banks are really important, but they won’t end hunger. Education is one of the ways we can change the system.”

I witnessed the education side of Lettuce Link’s work when a 5th grade class arrived from Salmon Bay K-8 School, an alternative public school located in Ballard. The group gathered around Scott for a brief orientation, and he explained the origins of Marra Farm: “All the land around the city used to be farmland to feed the city. This bit of land has stayed farmland.” The farm is named after the Marra family, who used to own and work the land.

He gave the students a brief intro to the food industry as well, explaining that each bite of food travels an average of 1,500 miles. “Some of it is food that we can grow here, and we still get it from far away.”

Throughout the year, the farm produces 25-30 different vegetables, which last year resulted in 15,000 pounds of food (not including another 8,000 pounds from our Seattle Community Farm in the Rainier Valley). That day the harvest included parsley, loose-leaf lettuce, chard and squash.

The many colors of Swiss chard

Colorful Swiss chard, ready to be harvested

The produce is mostly donated to food banks in the area, as well as the South Park Senior Center and South Park Community Kitchen. Lettuce Link also offers Work Trade opportunities, where volunteers can help maintain the farm in exchange for produce.

The day I volunteered, Providence Regina House – a food and clothing bank that serves four zip codes from South Park to Des Moines – came to collect food. Jack Wagstaff, Providence Regina House Program Manager, echoed Scott, saying that their food bank is intentionally located in that area, because “it’s radically underserved by anyone else.”

Before the food bank truck arrived, the students were each able to harvest two acorn squash. “We all have times where we get to help others, and we all have times where we get to be helped by others,” Scott told them. “Today, you get to be the helpers.”

Acorn squash, harvested by the 5th-grade volunteers

Acorn squash, harvested by the 5th-grade volunteers

The class teacher, Nicolette Jensen, said she has brought her class to the farm for the last three years. She feels it’s important for the students to “learn about the food industry and about how food used to be in the city. I think that little bit of education goes a long way.”

After harvesting, we washed the produce and stacked it in crates, ready for pickup. As the students ate their lunch, volunteers and employees gathered under the tent; Jack from Providence Regina House shared some snacks, and a neighbor joined us from across the street. Though everyone came from different places and had different levels of experience, a sense of community and shared purpose was clear at Marra Farm.

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The Giving Gardener: Plant cover crops now for healthy veggies next year

This post was contributed by Scott Behmer, Seattle Community Farm Coordinator.

2015-03-24 SCF Cover Crop ready to be tilled in

This cover crop, planted winter 2014, was ready to be tilled by March 2015.

Unlike veggies that we grow to feed us, we grow cover crops to feed the soil. They do many wonderful things like preventing erosion and water runoff, providing nutrients to the soil, and suppressing weeds.

When planting cover crop for winter, September is ideal and October is okay. The basics are similar for planting in either summer or winter. For winter, plant the cover crop in September. It will grow throughout the winter, competing with the weeds that would otherwise grow, holding the soil in place to prevent erosion and some runoff, as well as soak up lots of water to prevent more runoff.

When spring rolls around, till (mix) the cover crop into the soil where it will decompose and add their nutrients to the soil. It’s like composting, but directly in your garden bed. For nutrients, the ideal time to till cover crop in is as soon as it starts to flower. After that, the plants will instead be putting their nutrients into their seeds where they are less available to the soil, and if you wait until the seeds are produced it may become a weed itself.

You should allow two or three weeks for the cover crop to decompose before planting. If you run out of time before planting there are two options. You can either till in the cover crop early, or yank it out and compost it in your compost pile instead. If planting cover crop for the summer, the process is the same except it will grow much more quickly.

There are many different plants that are well suited to be a cover crop and many times of the year that you can plant them. They are most widely used over the winter when many veggies aren’t growing anyway, but you can also plant them in summer if you have a space that won’t be used for a while.

One of the most popular summer varieties is buckwheat. Buckwheat is fast growing and produces a lot of plant matter quickly. Over-the-winter popular varieties include field peas, vetch, clover, fava beans, and cereal rye (not perennial rye). It’s also very common to mix a few varieties together.

Cover crop photos by Steve Tracey

New additions to Marra Farm!

The children's shed got a makeover!

The children’s shed got a makeover!

If you haven’t been to Marra Farm lately, things might look a lot different next time you visit! Lettuce Link has some incredible recent additions to the farm, thanks to our amazing partners and hardworking volunteers.

Compost Bins

Young’s Market donated their time and money installing six new compost bins at Marra. Lettuce Link is thrilled to have these new bins, as they will help us build compost onsite and move us away from importing compost from other locations. By the start of next growing season, there will be lots of compost ready to add great nutrients to the soil.

Mushroom Hut

Marra has a brand new mushroom hut and mobile farm stand courtesy of Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA). The engineers at MKA designed the building and came to the farm en masse on Saturday, September 13 to bring their vision to life. Produce from Lettuce Link’s giving Garden at Marra Farm is available through a work trade program to anyone who has trouble affording and accessing fresh vegetables. The new mushroom hut will allow Lettuce Link to meet diversified interests from individuals in the community, at our partnering food banks, and at South Park’s Community Kitchen nights, and is a great educational tool for children and adults who are growing food for fun or to become self-reliant.

Mobile Farm Stand

One of Lettuce Link’s areas of emphasis is creating access points in the south end of Seattle for fresh produce. For individuals who don’t have time or capacity to participate in our work trade program, the mobile farm stand is a particularly exciting project. The stand creates a space directly in the middle of South Park at the farm for people to find affordable, organic produce. Local growers in the Marra Farm Coalition can sell their produce directly onsite. Stop by Saturdays from 11am-2pm to pick up some veggies from Marra Farm’s collective of growers!

Children’s Shed Addition & Makeover

South Park Arts gave our children’s shed a great makeover, complete with chalkboards on the walls! This group has worked with children at Marra for years on many art projects, and it’s wonderful to see this lasting, colorful piece thanks to them.

Hamm Creek Signage

Lastly, a very exciting, beautiful new project this year was made possible due to the King County Conservation District, Subaru Foundation, and the Russell Family Foundation. Brand new multilingual signs (in English, Spanish and Vietnamese) about the Hamm Creek Loop were installed along the perimeter of the farm on beautiful cedar posts. Come by for a walk around Marra and you’ll read about the animals you might find in and around the creek, take a peek into the water with a periscope, and learn about foraging native edible berries and the history of the creek.

If you or a group are interested in volunteering with Lettuce Link, please contact volunteers@solid-ground.org.

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September 2014 Groundviews: ‘Sharing in the goodness’

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the September 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

When you step through the front gate of Stacy Davison’s Maple Leaf home in North Seattle, you enter a lush gardening wonderland. Ornamentals and flowers commingle happily with edible crops. Trellises tower over raised beds – one bordered festively with partially-buried wine bottles – and many labeled with creative hand-painted signs. Wind your way down the flagstone path to the backyard, and you’ll find more verdant richness, plus treasures such as a bunny hutch, a chicken coop with a “living” roof covered in succulent plants, and a former garage converted into a cozy teaching space: Stacy’s one-room Seattle Urban Farm School.

Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program makes it easy for backyard and P-Patch gardeners like Stacy to donate their extra produce to local food banks and meals programs, getting fresh vegetables onto the tables of families who need them. For about three years now, Stacy has donated 10% of her harvests from her bountiful garden to her neighborhood food bank. Then about two years ago, she says, “I got inspired to teach a class, posted it on my blog, and it sold out.” Initially holding classes in her living room and garden, last winter she transformed her “junky old garage” into her schoolhouse. And keeping in tradition with her commitment to donate 10% of her harvests, she decided to donate 10% of class proceeds to Lettuce Link as well – a natural next step for her.

Setting down roots

When you see her garden, it’s hard to believe that Stacy, a 5th grade teacher by profession, previously “had no idea what a giving garden was.” But when a friend invited her to a fundraising harvest party in the backyard giving garden of former Lettuce Link Farm Coordinator Sue McGann, she says, “I was enthralled with Sue’s garden, and mine was just taking off. And I remember distinctly coming home and being inspired to start a giving garden of my own as a way of giving back. I was excited!” She immediately wrote a blog post announcing it: “I’m going to be a giving gardener!” Then she began to plot out which beds she’d use to grow extra food to donate to her local food bank via Lettuce Link.

Stacy says that as a kid, her family moved around so much that she knew she wanted to have a home, and she literally ‘set down roots’ as soon as she could. She describes her personal journey with gardening: “My dad was a musician; we were on food stamps. As kids, we thought that that was cool money! But later, I understood what that meant: not having money. We ate a lot of cereal for school lunch – and a lot of pancakes for dinner – foods you end up eating when you can’t really afford to buy food. I remember being hungry a lot.” Also, she says, “I work with students who don’t have access to food that I would like them to be eating. So personally it kind of tugs at me.”

Even now, she says, “Donating food can be challenging. When you spend a lot of time growing it, there’s a tendency to want to…” she hesitates a moment, “…not hoard it, but enjoy it. But I’m fortunate to be in this place now, and to have a space where I can grow my own food. This is my passion and love in life.

“My mission is to grow as much food in my yard as possible to provide food for myself – and I want to share the food as my gratitude for what I’m able to enjoy. And it feels good! I always feel so proud of what I’m donating, and being able to contribute in that way. I’m sharing in the goodness that I’m enjoying for myself.”

When she started teaching classes, Stacy says, “I realized my teaching skills plus my passion for gardening came together, and I came alive more than I have in a long time.” In her first year as a giving gardener, “I donated about 10% of the total pounds that I grew. So that’s been my mark: 10% of Farm School proceeds go to Lettuce Link – money and food to people who need it. Setting a goal for myself, it’s sort of like making a direct deposit.

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

From giving gardener to donor

“If you make a commitment and be really clear about what the commitment’s going to be, then it’s easier to stick to, or it becomes a habit. For me, the percentage has been a fun challenge, and I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s just what I committed to, and I feel good about it. It’s like a bill. A feel-good bill!”

Making the transition from volunteering to also being a donor “felt really manageable to me. I believe in the organization. Donating monetarily has allowed me to feel like I’m still contributing, even when my harvests aren’t strong or I’m not able to participate as actively because of time. I want to do my part to support it in whatever way I can,” she says.

“My work with Lettuce Link has been a way of making my gardening activity even more proactive and connected with the community than it was before. I’m not just playing in the dirt – even though that’s great and it is my therapy. It’s less a solitary thing, less just about me and what I’m eating, and more about what I’m eating plus what I’m able to share. I feel immense gratitude for what I have and what I’m able to contribute. So that’s been amazing, and it feels good.”

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