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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West Seattle Garden Tour: Beautiful gardens support important causes

Garden lovers, save the date! This Sunday, July 19 from 9am to 5am, the West Seattle Garden Tour will offer a day-long opportunity to tour some beautiful gardens in the West Seattle neighborhood: a feast for the senses, and inspiration for creating your own garden havens.

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Started in 1995 as a fundraiser for ArtsWest, the West Seattle Garden Tour has evolved into an annual fundraising event for Seattle-based community gardens and other nonprofits that promote horticulture, education or the arts. Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of seven 2015 beneficiaries.  Lettuce Link’s focus on sustainable food production and nutrition education earned it a spot on this year’s beneficiary list.

The 2015 tour will consist of nine gardens all chosen to illustrate the essential elements of gardening utility and aesthetics. This year, Lunch Lecture Guest Speaker Phil Wood will draw on his experiences as an award-winning garden designer and a nationally published garden writer to share the characteristics of successful gardens.

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Remember, the tour’s turnout decides the funds awarded to the nonprofits, so there’s never been a more important time to stop and smell the roses! Tickets books are $20 and can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets or any of the following retail locations:

For more information, email marketing@westseattlegardentour.org.

June 2014 Groundviews: Growing healthy partnerships

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

If you visit Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood on any given day from March to October, you’re likely to find a beehive of activity — often involving groups of students from Concord International School (pre-K through 5th grade), located just a few blocks away. Via collaboration with Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link and Apple Corps programs and Concord teachers, students learn about nutrition, the environment, and sustainable gardening and food systems. 

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At the center of the buzzing, you might find Amelia Swinton, Lettuce Link Education Coordinator, who describes her job as “the meeting ground of two different education programs.” There’s gardening education through Lettuce Link, combined with nutrition education through Apple Corps. In the fall and winter, she partners with an Apple Corps AmeriCorps member to teach weekly indoor nutrition-education lessons at Concord. Then during the growing season, classes move outdoors for hands-on gardening at Marra Farm, where kids get to “Adopt-a-Plot” that they plant, nurture and harvest themselves. Best of all, they get to bring the veggies home for their families to enjoy.

Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager, says it’s “a collective approach. We’re working together to achieve common goals around food justice, access and education. Almost everything that we do comes back to that.”

Engaging families
Since 1998, Solid Ground’s involvement as one of several stewarding organizations at Marra Farm has greatly increased access to healthy nutritious food in South Park, and one of the most effective conduits for this has been Concord students themselves. When Solid Ground launched the Apple Corps program in 2007 to do nutrition and fitness education in schools and nonprofits, Concord became a natural partner.

In addition to classroom lessons, there are afterschool events designed  not only to engage families, but also to encourage self-determination where healthy food choices are concerned. Annual “Market Night” celebrations are one such event, combining health and nutrition information and activities with cultural sharing presentations, and an open-air market where each kid is empowered to choose from and “purchase” a variety of fresh produce.

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At Concord’s recent Market Night, Amelia introduced us to Joanne – a 4th grader and very enthusiastic budding gardener – who has brought her family to the Farm on several occasions. Joanne tells us, “I like Marra Farm because they garden, and also they let other kids do it.” Her favorite veggie to grow is “peas. They’re actually a little hard; you have to use sticks so they can climb, and you need to water them and weed them every single time.”

Joanne definitely thinks it’s better to grow your own food rather than buy it in a grocery store because, “It’s more nutritious, because you’re proud of yourself, and you think it’s very good!” She says someday, “I’m going to go and make my own garden in the back of my house.” For now, she and her parents are happy to live so close to Marra Farm.

Another way families get involved is through student-led Community Kitchens, known at Concord as “4th Grade Cooks.” Amelia says, “The logic behind 4th Grade Cooks is that the best way to learn something is to teach it – and kids should be the nutrition teachers for their families. Kids are a great ‘carrot’ to get their whole family involved, and then it becomes a night where kids are in the lead in cooking healthy food – the end result being a fun, positive space where everybody eats a healthy, free dinner. And what family doesn’t want to come cook with their cute kid?”

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Honoring community strengths
In South Park, 30% of residents speak Spanish, and Latino students make up the largest ethnic group (over 61%) at Concord. As an international school, the dual-language immersion program strives for all students to become bilingual/biliterate in English and Spanish. While Amelia is fluent in Spanish, she says she hopes that Solid Ground’s work in South Park will become “more community based and build leadership amongst folks from the neighborhoods where we’re working. As a white educator not from the community, this feels especially important to me.”

One way Amelia connects the community to gardening and nutrition education efforts is to invite parents and teachers to guest-teach classes in their areas of expertise. Recently, one student’s mom gave his class a tour of the Marra Farm Chicken Co-op that she helped to create. “To encourage families to share some of their knowledge is a really powerful way of switching out those roles of who has knowledge, and who’s the giver of knowledge, and who’s the receiver of knowledge.”

But she adds, “I think the most important kernels of my work at Marra Farm are getting kids to bond with nature and healthy eating – and doing so in a way that acknowledges how agriculture and farming have been felt really disproportionately by different communities. Particularly in the Latino community, there’s been a lot of suffering through agriculture. There is also a huge amount of knowledge and pride. I hope the program continues to grow in a way that acknowledges people’s different experiences, while leading with the really beautiful and important things that happen when people love on their environment, feed their bodies well, and treat animals with respect.”

Amelia says, “Part of what makes nutrition education and the Marra Farm Giving Garden such a natural fit is that nutrition is all about, ‘Eat your fruits and veggies!’ And the Giving Garden makes it possible in a community that would otherwise struggle to access produce. Where do you get fresh vegetables? Marra Farm! Actually being able to say, ‘This is important and this is how you can get it’ is really powerful.”

Lettuce Link joys, challenges and new directions

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Lettuce Link blog.

Welcome to 2012! On these gloomy January days (when we are rather glad to be warm and dry indoors instead of out in the garden), it’s a good time to pause and take stock of where Lettuce Link has been and where we’re going.

So, without further ado, here are a few of our accomplishments in 2011, made possible by the help of our generous volunteers (over 9,329 volunteer hours!) and financial supporters:

And yet, as we catch our breath this winter after a busy year, we’ve found ourselves at a bit of a crossroads. Fewer grants, budget cuts and belt-tightening measures provide an opportunity to reassess our work: What are our program’s strengths? What do we do that’s unique? How can we continue to grow and change our program to meet community needs, provide wrap-around services for Solid Ground participants, and further our anti-racism work?

These are not easy questions, but we’re committed to working through them with your support. Here are a few exciting projects to keep an eye out for in 2012:

  • Building an overhead structure at the Seattle Community Farm, which will allow protection from the elements and make the space more conducive to community gatherings.
  • Expanding our CSA project at Marra Farm, to both raise funds for our program and offer a sliding-scale subscription to our neighbors.
  • Advocating for just food policies on the city, state and federal levels. Watch the Lettuce Link blog for details in the next few days!
Thank you for your time, resources and support both this past year and as we boldly stride into 2012 – pushing a wheelbarrow and wearing our rainboots!

The Lettuce Link team – Michelle, Sue, Scott, Robin, Amelia, Mariah and Blair (with much gratitude to Molly, Kate, Andrea, Sophie and Alice – our staff, AmeriCorps volunteers and interns who have moved on to new adventures).

The Giving Gardener: Take dry moments to sow spring crops

Early spring is good time to plant greens!

Rain and cold and more rain – and yet really, it is gardening season. Last week, we planted pea starts, onions, cilantro and radishes with 15 very cute 4-year-olds at Marra Farm. Their wonder and enchantment in the natural world was incredible, and amazingly enough, the rain stayed away the entire time they were at the farm.

That day was a good reminder to make use of any dry moments and get spring crops into the ground. Crops like spinach, peas and lettuces thrive in the cold, wet spring – and if they are planted too late in the spring, they are quick to wilt or go to seed in the warmer days of summer.

Jasminah, 2010

Speaking of warmer weather, this week of sunshine is a good time to think about planting summer crops like beans, cucumber and squash from seed.

Seattle gardeners generally sow these seeds from late April to late May, so save some space in your plot or determine which leafy greens will be replaced by these warm weather lovers. We will have these starts available for Giving Gardeners in another month.

 

Jennifer and carrots (2010)

Next week, we plant carrots with the Preschoolers. I hope the warmer weather continues so this kid-vegetable of choice is ready to harvest in late June. There is nothing quite like the delight on a child’s face as they pull a carrot up out of the ground! Well, for the Giving Gardener, there is the satisfaction in knowing that the carrot or lettuce or chard you grew was shared with someone in the community, someone that you may not know personally, but someone nourished by your garden.

The Giving Gardener: Growing for others

Editor’s note: This post launches a regular series called The Giving Gardener. Brought to you by staff of our Lettuce Link program, the series will offer advice on cultivating your own food and growing for others.

Pea vines

Growing food for yourself, for friends, family and especially to donate to strangers is at once an act of kindness and self-indulgent. Yes, self-indulgent, because growing food involves connecting with the senses when so often in our busy, urban lives we live hurried, stressed and detached.

It is the richness that gardening delivers to our lives that brings out the generosity in gardeners. We call it Growing and Giving or Food Bank Gardening, and in Seattle last year, both seasoned and beginning gardeners collectively grew and donated over 20,000 pounds of produce! Indulge your senses, contribute to your community and join us this year in Growing and Giving.

Now is the time to ready your garden bed for spring planting. Gardeners in the Northwest typically plant peas on Presidents’ Day. Soak the seeds overnight and then either plant directly into the ground or start them indoors to transplant later.

Wait a few more weeks to plant other crops. The February sunshine has given way to March cold snaps the past few years and unless you’re in a very warm sunny spot, even radishes won’t do too well.

When growing food you cultivate a delicate and full body awareness of weather, daylight and temperature. You experience the sensation of cold soil under your nails, blisters from the shovel and the pull in your lower back. The nose is alive with the scent of decay and the sumptuousness of life. And of course, you taste the flavors of the earth, spicy greens, crunchy carrots, the sweetness of peas and tomatoes freshly picked.

Whatever your gardening experience or philosophy, don’t forget to enjoy it. Toss in some planning, experimentation and creativity and the benefits will support your community.

Lettuce Link creates access to fresh, nutritious and organic produce, seeds and gardening information for families with lower incomes in Seattle. We work to educate the community about food security and sustainable food production. Community volunteers and donations are the key to making this work successful! Go to our website to learn more, donate and join in the fun!

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