Raising food, connecting cultures

(Editor’s note: This is the main story reprinted from our July 2011 Groundviews newsletter. To read the complete newsletter or past issues of Groundviews, please visit our Publications webpage.)

A work party at Seattle Community Farm, June 2011

On a cool, drizzly June day, Sudi convinced his 7-year-old brother to join him at a work party at the new farm nestled within their housing complex. They helped move the last load of dirt into neat rows, soon to be planted. Scott Behmer, Seattle Community Farm Coordinator, says that when he started in the fall of 2010, the Farm was little more than “a grass field and a parking lot” near Rainier Vista (a mixed-income housing community just off MLK Way in South Seattle). Today, after two+ years of planning, community meetings and “a lot of physical work moving in 200 cubic yards of soil and tens of thousands of pounds of other materials,” the 1/3-acre Farm is fully planted and celebrated its official Grand Opening on June 25.

     Seattle Community Farm is the newest project of Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, which works with and in communities to grow and share fresh, nourishing food, and envisions a city where people have equal access to healthy and culturally appropriate food. Scott says, “Our goal is to get vegetables to folks who struggle to afford them.”

Cross-cultural community building

Getting the new Farm to where it is today has been a true organizing effort: Lettuce Link worked with many partners, including Seattle’s P-Patch Program, landscape designer Eric Higbee (who donated his services) and Seattle Housing Authority.

     Lettuce Link Program Manager, Michelle Bates-Benetua, says, “Together, we crafted and carried out a culturally relevant engagement process so the community could tell us what they wanted. It may take longer and it is more expensive to provide food, childcare and interpretation, but our intent is to work together with the neighborhood so that in a few years, they run the Farm and we’ve worked ourselves out of a job.

     “The grand vision is that the community is able to produce food together across cultures and language, share that food among themselves and with the Rainier Valley Food Bank, and utilize the gathering space as one community instead of several distinct groups living in one neighborhood.”

     Mariah Pepper, an AmeriCorps*VISTA serving this year as Seattle Community Farm’s Outreach Coordinator, says, “It’s an interesting neighborhood; Rainier Vista is a mixed-income housing development, so there’s every kind of person you can imagine.” Residents run the gamut from Seattle Housing Authority seniors and people living on very low incomes, to Habitat for Humanity homeowners, to renters and homeowners affording full-market rates.

     Seattle Community Farm is built on a Work Trade model Scott describes as “one way to try to make the volunteer model work for people where time might mean a lot more because they’re lower income and might work more jobs. Basically, if you work two hours, you get a bag of vegetables,” worth about $30/bag. “So you’re not just volunteering, you’re coming and working in exchange for vegetables.”

     Michelle says, “The goal is to make sure our volunteer opportunities are accessible and meaningful for the community” – and yet this poses challenges. The Rainier Vista area is extremely culturally diverse: Residents speak approximately 50 different languages. Mariah says, “With so many languages and so many cultures, it makes outreach a bit difficult, because there are so many different ways that people interact with each other – and a sea of information. And that’s the thing we’ve all learned: We have to have multiple ways of getting information out there.”

     When possible, staff use interpreters and have outreach materials translated into multiple languages. Scott says Rainier Vista has “a lot of community events. So we’re going to those, and going door to door, leaving flyers and talking to people.”

Sudi, a Seattle Community Farm volunteer and Rainier Vista resident

Sudi, a Seattle Community Farm volunteer and Rainier Vista resident

Good chemistry

Sudi is one young resident who both volunteers regularly and is helping get the word out to other residents. Originally from Ethiopia, his family has lived at Rainier Vista for six years. Having just finished his third year studying chemistry at St. Martin’s College, he says his dad asked him to come out to volunteer one day, and they happened to be doing a class on composting. “We talked about fertilizers and nitrogen, and so I get interested when I hear that!” Sudi says, “I think it is wonderful. Aside from just doing the work, you actually learn how to grow plants. We have fun talking about different kinds of plants, and it’s just a learning experience.

     “I try to get people involved here in the neighborhood. Scott gave me flyers, and one day I took it down and gave it to some people – trying to explain the reason behind it. The reason why this is here, from my understanding, is this is a (mostly) vegetable garden – and trying to get more nutritions from vegetables into this community, who either don’t know much about the importance of it – or since vegetables are expensive, they don’t get much of it. Having it here, and them working on it and harvesting it themselves, is a big thing.”

     Scott says, “It’s always great to get volunteers from the community to come out and work, and hear a little about them, and see them enjoy it.” Mariah adds: “Food is so connected to culture – so it’s a way to talk about how we grow things, how we cook things and eat things, and have a conversation across these differences. I would like to see the Farm be able to bridge that.”

For more information about the Seattle Community Farm, please contact 206.694.6828 or urbanfarm@solid-ground.org, or visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Nutrition/CommunityFarm.

The Giving Gardener: Plant your cool weather crops!

Giving Gardeners –

If you haven’t yet planted a seed this season, do not fear, there is still time! In fact, if your garden beds are not too soggy, this is a great time to get started. March was kind enough to water our garden beds almost daily, and though April feels as cold as winter, spring is here.

This is the time of year to plant cool weather crops — lettuces, carrots, beets, pak choi, gailan, kale, chard, collards, spinach, mustards, broccoli, radishes and onions. The radishes and onions, if harvested when young, can be the first crop you donate.

Though food banks often get many storing onions, they do not always have a fresh supply of green onions. Practically any onion variety can be harvested young with the green shoots above ground and the small bulb below ground. Green onions or scallions are appreciated by cooks from diverse culinary traditions and can easily be interspersed in your garden, taking up very little space.

Planting from seed usually results in hardy plants as only the strongest make it to maturity. Planting from starts helps you keep ahead of the weeds. Either way, if you’re growing for donation, you can request seeds and starts from Lettuce Link.

You can also make a donation to support Lettuce Link or keep up-to-date with them through the Lettuce Link Blog.

Happy Gardening!

Community radio supports community gardening

Cool: KBCS 91.3 FM Community Radio is teaming up again with Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, this time for their Winter Fund Drive, which takes place through Sunday, February 20.

Donors who give at the $52 level and above can choose to have a portion of their gift passed on to Lettuce Link to support its efforts to get nutritious organic produce to hungry people. This past Spring and Fall, similar efforts raised some much-needed support for Lettuce Link and provided great exposure as well.

As the only community radio station in the Seattle area, KBCS aspires to be the radio of choice for adventurous listeners who are passionate about music, curious about our world, and value social justice.

To accomplish this mission, KBCS produces and broadcasts quality programming that supports more inclusive interdependent communities. KBCS is a non-commercial, listener-supported source for local, national and international music and information that draws from and reflects the diversity of our population. Operated as a public service by Bellevue College, KBCS trains and provides opportunities for community members to participate in all aspects of radio.

KBCS relies on donations from the community to support station operations. The KBCS Winter Fund Drive began Friday, February 11 and continues through Sunday, February 20. The goal for this important Fund Drive is $75,000. To donate securely today, please go online to KBCS’s website and click on the “Donate Now” tab.

Of course, you can also donate additional support directly to Lettuce Link!

Harvesting goodness at Marra Farm

Another wonderful set of harvest photos from our good friends at Marra Farm.

Mustard greens, chard, radishes and some happy honey bees!


Honey bees

The entire sets can be viewed here.

Thanks once again to Marra Farm volunteer Steve Tracy for his beautiful photographs.

Inspired? Come join us on Fridays (only 3 left for 2010!) from 10am-2pm at Marra Farm (9026 4th Ave S) for harvesting, washing and being outside on a crisp fall day. Call Sue at 206.694.6746 x1 for more information.

Ground broken on new Seattle Community Farm

An earthmover in action

An earthmover in action

On Tuesday, September 28 at 7am, a long-awaited dream began to take shape as construction workers broke ground for the new Seattle Community Farm – tucked behind the Rainier Vista housing community on MLK Drive in South Seattle. To some, it may look like a big pile of dirt right now – but those who have been planning this farm for over a year know it’s future manna.

Seattle Community Farm is the latest project of Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, which has engaged the South Park community in sustainable food production at Marra Farm since 1998. The new farm is primarily funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Food Project. The City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods also supports the project.

Construction worker at New Seattle Community Farm

Construction worker at groundbreaking

Groundwork for the new Seattle Community Farm was carefully laid over the past year by Lettuce Link staff, VISTA volunteers Leslie Heimer and Jamie Robinson, and landscape designer Eric Higbee, in partnership with the Department of Neighborhoods. They conducted thorough outreach in the Rainier Vista community (representing seven different language groups). They gained valuable feedback and participation in finalizing the design for the new farm from the very people who will utilize and nurture it.

On Saturday prior to the groundbreaking, Lettuce Link joined a Rainier Vista Multicultural Celebration to bring the community together in anticipation of the new farm. Seattle Community Farm Coordinator, Scott Behmer, posted this story about the event on the Lettuce Link. blog.

The vision for the new farm is that it will turn unused urban land into an educational farm for local residents and volunteers. Produce grown at the farm will go to residents with lower incomes, the Rainier Valley food bank, and the children who participate in Lettuce Link programs. The farm will model a shared garden environment rather than individual plots, and will help teach children and youth about gardening and eating healthy foods.

Future Seattle Community Farm

Future Seattle Community Farm

The Seattle Community Farm is a partnership between Lettuce Link, Seattle Housing Authority, and the City of Seattle P-Patch Program. For more information, contact Farm Coordinator Scott Behmer at scottb@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6828, or Lettuce Link Manager Michelle Bates-Benetua at michelleb@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6754.

Vandalism and theft at Marra Farm

Peace Scarecrow

This post is reprinted from the Lettuce Link. blog:

Not Cool: We have some shocking and disappointing news from the farm this week. This past Friday, July 15th, volunteers and staff arrived at the farm to a disconcerting scene. Someone had broken into each shed looking for valuable tools to take. Not only hand tools, but the much-needed (and expensive to replace) lawnmower and weed whacker had disappeared in the night. In addition, the P-Patch shed had been opened and all its contents overturned, although it appears that nothing went missing. Neighbors chased away some teens throwing the unripe apples at farm structures Thursday night, but the two occurrences seem to be unrelated.

Even more frightening, while inspecting the shed, our Marra Farm Giving Garden Coordinator Sue McGann found what looked like (and was confirmed to be) bullet holes in the walls of the P-Patch shed. The police officer who arrived at the scene believes that the holes were made by someone using the shed as target practice. The police wish to assure everyone in the community that they are still safe in the area. Even so, all of these events are a disappointing show of disrespect towards the farm property and the people who work on and benefit from the farm’s operations.

Upon hearing this news, Julie Simon, a long-time volunteer scheduled to work at the farm the next day with a group of friends, first made a detour.  Her detour was a shopping trip and out of her own pocket, she replaced the lawn mower and weed-whacker.  It was heartening to arrive and see the shiny new items. More than replacing stuff it was her thoughtful act of kindness that was totally unexpected and really lifted our spirits.  It is a reminder that we do this work TOGETHER and that it is only through caring for one another that we can truly nourish our community.

Marra Farm Giving Garden is a project of Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program. For more info about Marra Farm, contact Sue McGann at 206.694.6746 x1 or suem@solid-ground.org. For info about Lettuce Link, contact Michelle Bates-Benetua at 206.694.6754 or lettucklink@solid-ground.org.

Farm talk with Sue: spring harvest, greenhouses and more

Our Lettuce Link program has posted another Session with Farmer Sue. Check it out for the latest news about our Giving Garden at Marra Farm.

To see previous videos go to Solid Ground’s YouTube channel.

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