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

Food Justice: What does it mean to learn it, grow it, live it?

PrintFor some, Chefs Night Out has been a longstanding tradition of food, fun and fundraising. Local food and wine enthusiasts gather for a cocktail hour, auction, and a much anticipated dinner prepared tableside by one of 10 locally celebrated chefs featured at the event. This year the celebration continues on November 16 at the beautiful Seattle Design Center in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

In addition to having the opportunity to savor a gourmet four-course meal with fine wine pairings, attendees partaking in these festivities also get to do so while contributing to a cause that challenges the root causes of hunger. All proceeds from the event go toward Solid Ground’s work to achieve food justice through the Hunger & Food Resources department and its subsidiary programs. But this year is a little different; the focus is not only on food justice, it’s also on the development of food justice as a living mantra for the local community. A mantra built on the tenets of learning it, growing it, and living it.

LEARN IT
The Apple Corps program, a team of National Service members dedicated to nutrition education, works within local schools to combine standard subjects like math, science, literacy and art with cooking, wellness and physical activity. Gerald Wright, Hunger & Food Resources Director at Solid Ground, firmly believes that nutritional knowledge is power:

Apple Corps 2008The whole idea around nutrition education is that if we can really train children from an early age in all aspects of healthy eating, in understanding the value and benefit of eating balanced, nutritional meals, if we can help children at that young age really start to fall in love with healthy foods – taste it, experience it, and see that it’s good – that enables them to start making healthier choices. That is supportive of food justice.”

GROW IT
Developing an urban farm in a rapidly sprawling city like Seattle can be difficult. But the Lettuce Link program, which has been gardening and giving since 1988, is still going strong. By cooperatively operating two lively farms with their adjacent communities and collaborating with over 64 P-Patch community gardens and 18 other giving gardens, Lettuce Link manages to donate an average of 50,000 pounds of produce per year to those who need it! Marra Farm’s ¾-acre Giving Garden utilizes the dwindling farming space in Seattle and encourages folks in the South Park neighborhood to invest in growing organic food and the environment around them. Seattle Community Farm‘s repurposed sliver of land in the Rainier Vista housing community is also open to local residents and volunteers, with produce going to the Rainier Valley Food Bank and neighborhood residents with lower incomes.

Lettuce Link 1988“Lettuce Link is all about being a community place where people can not only come and learn about growing food, but they can actually experience it,” Gerald says.

The program aims to offer experiential knowledge and hands-on learning as a means of informing and encouraging the local community to grow its own food. The objective is to offer people the tools needed to ensure that price and availability don’t become the barrier to choosing fresh and healthy options. By showing people that you can grow your own food with a little bit of space and some water, that’s putting control over access and quality back into the hands of the folks who need it most. With all of the opportunities that Lettuce Link offers to stay connected to the food we eat by learning how to grow it, this element is a critical cornerstone of food justice.

LIVE IT

Eating is necessary to sustain life. Cooking, however, is not – and not everyone has equal access to the knowledge or skills to cook the vegetables they’ve been told are good for them.

Cooking Matters 1994 (by John Bolivar)

Photo by John Bolivar

Maybe people have a concept of what constitutes healthy eating. Someone goes to the doctor and their doctor tells them to go on a low-sodium diet. But they may not know how to cook foods within their new diet. We want people to be in a position of power over their eating. Knowing vegetables are healthy is different from knowing how to cook them,” offers Gerald.

This is where the Cooking Matters program comes into play. With generous in-kind donations from Charlie’s Produce and Whole Foods Market, Cooking Matters students (from kindergartners to seniors) attend hands-on cooking lessons and receive take-home groceries to continue cooking healthy recipes at home. Participants also receive food and nutrition expertise from community volunteer chefs, nutritionists and class assistants. Because “it’s not enough just to know what is nutritious and how to grow it, but also how to cook it,” Gerald says.

We’re turning the page on a community exercising the right to know, grow and eat healthy and culturally relevant foods. And while shopping, weeding or cooking can seem like laborious tasks, they empower individuals to make healthy and sustainable choices that feed their bodies and their communities.

_______

Seattle Community Farm: classroom-style

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The Seattle Community Farm (SCF) is really something else. Most of my young adolescent life was spent going to school not too far away in Columbia City, but the neighborhood now is much more developed than it used to be. So I got lost.

But three light rail crossings and two U-turns later, a large recently installed sign told me that I’d arrived to a narrow (1/2-acre) strip of land that would otherwise be overgrown with blackberry bushes and giantess maple-looking trees. The strip has been turned into a full-blown farm in which 100% of the produce goes to local residents of the Rainier Vista housing development in the Rainier Valley neighborhood and the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

For the next three hours, I found myself beside complete strangers who had one thing in common with me: We came to work. We harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and zucchini. We prepared beds and planted spinach and bok choy. We cut back some invasive, thorny blackberry vines. And we did something adults don’t often like to admit: We learned.

Scott Behmer is the SCF Coordinator. He told us all what to do with such enthusiasm and timeliness I had a feeling he was well versed in shaping up us (sometimes clueless) volunteers. And while we hacked at those pain-seeking blackberry bushes and burrowed our faces deep into the leaves of cucumber plants searching for ripe ones, Scott made a point to engage us in little-known facts about plants and the food system in Seattle. Like the fact that there are 29 food banks in Seattle (we all guessed around 10). As we prodded the thorny cucumbers, he asked us how long we thought the vegetables we picked that day would last at the food bank. A couple days, we guessed uncertainly? Actually, it was a couple of hours. That’s how in demand fresh, organic produce is in a community that cannot afford it otherwise. One other volunteer mentioned her experience seeing people in a pretty long line at a local food bank. All eight of us fell silent, looking for more ripe cucumbers that weren’t there.

As city-dwellers, small scale gardening and urban farming can make us feel more connected to the food we eat. Being part of the growing and picking experience can put the food on our plate under an entirely different light. But planting, watering, nurturing and harvesting while knowing full well that you, yourself, will not be able to enjoy the taste of them (save a few rogue cherry tomatoes) – but that someone with little time and fewer resources will – well that adds an entire dimension of humanity to food. Think on that a while.

But also keep in mind that there’s no standing around at the SCF. Get to work!

40 years of healthy food & food justice

Food Bank waiting 1993

Customers in line at the Fremont Food Bank, circa 1987; the Food Bank was transferred to FamilyWorks in 1999.

For more than 40 years, Solid Ground and its predecessor, the Fremont Public Association, have been feeding a hungry community and promoting food justice.

In 1974, our Fremont Food Bank was one of the first in Seattle’s north end. But it takes more than distributing food to fully address hunger.

So we started working with food banks, educators, chefs and businesses to help families develop skills to improve their food security and build lifelong healthy eating habits.

Solid Ground's Food Resources transports produce to local food banks throughout Seattle.

Solid Ground’s Food Resources transports produce to local food banks throughout Seattle.

In 1979, we partnered with the City of Seattle to create Food Resources, which developed into the backbone of the Seattle food bank system, providing administrative and technical support and transportation.

In the late 1980s we organized Lettuce Link to support P-Patch community gardeners and other backyard gardeners to grow produce for local food banks, and to provide seeds and vegetable starts for families who patronized food banks, supporting them in growing their own food – but the need for fresh produce was far greater.

Solid Ground now operates farms in the South Park neighborhood and at the Rainier Vista housing community.

Solid Ground now operates farms in the South Park neighborhood and at the Rainier Vista housing community.

So in the mid-1990s we partnered with community groups and spearheaded the Marra Farm Coalition to steward one of two remaining original farmland sites in Seattle at Marra Farm. There, hundreds of volunteers a year tend our Giving Garden to grow organic produce for people with limited access to nutritious produce, and we engage people in organic gardening, food justice and environmental stewardship. The Giving Garden produces about 25,000 pounds of fresh organic produce each year. In 2011, we opened a second urban growing operation adjacent to the Rainier Vista housing development, Seattle Community Farm, which provides education and inspiration while engaging the local community in growing fresh produce to support food security in Southeast Seattle.

Cooking Matters builds community through hands-on nutrition education.

Cooking Matters builds community through hands-on nutrition education.

During the mid-1990s we also launched a partnership with the national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength to bring Operation Frontline (now Cooking Matters) classes into our community. These six-week courses are presented at community-based partner organizations throughout Western Washington. They utilize volunteer chefs and nutritionists to support healthy cooking skills, nutrition education and food budgeting. Share Our Strength was also our partner in turning the Fremont Food Bank into the region’s first Super Pantry, which married emergency food and a full array of family support services. The Super Pantry eventually spun off as a stand-alone nonprofit, FamilyWorks.

In 2005, our nutrition education and skill-building efforts expanded into local schools through the Apple Corps, which uses national service teams to address the root causes of hunger and other health inequities in low-income communities.

Apple Corps Market Night at a local elementary school.

Apple Corps Market Night at a local elementary school.

The Giving Garden at Marra is our outdoor classroom. Students from Concord International Elementary School and other partner organizations learn about environmental issues in their community as they also learn to garden and prepare nutritious food. Our work in schools and with other community organizations is an important aspect of a growing movement towards a sustainable food system that is equitable for all.

We believe that ending hunger and creating equitable access to healthy food starts with breaking bread together. It draws on the experience and expertise of many organizations, community groups and individuals. And over 40 years, the education and access supported by Solid Ground helps empower people to achieve food justice.

For more information about this work and how you or your group can get involved, contact Gerald Wright, Hunger & Food Resources Director.

Cooking matters vol 2013

 

Community gathering space completed at Seattle Community Farm

November 21 was a frosty morning, when work crews from Shirey Handyman Service began the two-day construction project of the last piece of the Seattle Community Farm’s infrastructure. VIA Architecture’s Community Design Studio assisted Solid Ground in the design and permitting of the new shelter that fulfills the original plan for the Seattle Community Farm. Two years in the making, the completion of the overhead structures “will greatly enhance the work at the Farm,” says Scott Behmer, Seattle Community Farm Coordinator.

Now into the third growing season, the Seattle Community Farm, a project of Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, has had to cope with the ever-changing Pacific Northwest weather. Sunny summer days would wilt vegetables being washed, while the seemingly endless rain would put a damper on outdoor activities being held without a shelter. With the comfort the new overhead structures provide, Lettuce link expects to expand classes at the Farm – such as hosting additional Cooking Matters cooking and nutrition courses – and other events and activities that engage the Rainier Vista neighborhood. To Farmer Scott, “The purpose of the final infrastructure piece – to bring people together and act as a community gathering place – has finally been realized.”

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Food production to fight global warming

Editor’s note: Thanks to Amanda Horvath for this report. She currently serves as Program Outreach & Development AmeriCorps Member for Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program.

SeaCAP-homewithtextThe City of Seattle has developed a Climate Action Plan that addresses four sectors – transportation and land use, building energy, adaptation and building support for climate action. The Seattle Community Farm, a project of Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, was recently highlighted in the City’s plan because it “inspires, educates, and increases food security for residents of Southeast Seattle” (59).

We are honored to be recognized by the City for the way our local food production helps mitigate the impacts of climate change. According to the City, the mitigation of greenhouse gases is essential, as is our ability to adapt and be prepared, because we don’t know the extent to which we will be impacted by a changing climate.

The report highlights the significant role food systems planning plays in our ability to be prepared. It states that “the crops, livestock, and fisheries that supply our food as well as the global food distribution system could be significantly impacted by changes in temperature, amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather…” (58). In an effort to respond and be prepared for such events, the City hopes to develop a plan that ensures that “all Seattle residents should have enough to eat and access to affordable, local, healthy, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food” (58).

Lettuce Link, through its work at the Seattle Community Farm as well as Marra Farm in South Park, is doing just that – increasing access to affordable, local, healthy, sustainable and culturally appropriate food through its organic giving gardens, seed distributions, and garden and nutrition education. During the last harvest season alone, Lettuce Link was able to grow and distribute over 26,500 pounds of healthy food produce to hungry people locally, while also helping address climate change!

November 2012 Groundviews: “Thank you for all of your help along this journey”

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our November 2012 lead story; visit our website to read the entire issue online.

November 2012 Groundviews cover image

November 2012 Groundviews cover

The impact of Solid Ground’s work is no more powerfully expressed than through the words of gratitude from the people who access our services. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we have collected here a tiny sampling of thank you notes passed on to program staff by people who have come to Solid Ground for a wide variety of reasons, and who were moved to let us know how their lives have positively changed through their experiences here.

To Family Shelter staff:
     “I would like to start off by thanking you for always treating me with the utmost respect, for always returning my phone calls, for the advocacy you provided for me when my voice wasn’t that strong, for going above and beyond, for researching other resources and options when I felt like I had nothing left. I could only imagine if there were more individuals such as yourself how much greater it would be. You’ve helped me, so that I can be able to help my son in life. Thank you.”
~ Family Shelter mom

To Apple Corps ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’ nutritionists:
     “My favorite food we cooked was the Frittata because it was very tasty and has a lot of veggies. I learned a lot about different foods in the world like tofu and sushi. At first I was nervous to taste it but when I did it was good. Don’t be afraid to try anything from another culture! Thanks ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’!”
~ Seattle Public Schools 5th grader

To Washington Reading Corps (WRC) staff:
     “I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My year with WRC Solid Ground prepared me beautifully for what I would encounter later in my MIT program at Evergreen. We have been having beautiful discussions related to race and privilege and our role as teachers to be inclusive. I feel I would have not been prepared if I did not go through all the trainings and workshops you and the team leaders arranged for us. This is why I just wanted to thank you and Solid Ground for doing such a great job making people reflect on assumptions and biases related to race.”
 ~ Graduate student & former Washington Reading Corps Member

To JourneyHome staff:
     “I am grateful to you for comforting me and my family during the unexpected domestic violence incident and the overall follow up. It was one of my luckiest days that I came to know and work with you. Running away from the threatening and hostile Ethiopian political scenario, [our] family has experienced several ups and downs. But, human beings could be tested in various scales, and it would be rewarding and educational to pass through challenges and be able to stand on both legs safely. I remember a note below a picture of a very big woody-stemmed plant with branches saying that, ‘Like a tree, we each must find a place to grow and branch out.’ Yes, in our case, it reads as we need freedom to use our maximum potential to educate our offsprings. All is to say ‘Thank you’ for your exceptional multitude of help.”
~ JourneyHome family from Ethiopia

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

To Lettuce Link staff:
     “Thank you for helping me with my vegetables. Also giving me my own garden. Also help my mom save a few dollars. P.S. Thank you”
 ~ Concord Elementary School 3rd grader

To RSVP Knit-It-Alls volunteers:
     “Two years ago I was homeless and living in a garage during the winter season, and gifts of socks and hats kept me warm and able to go on. It was not only the material goods but the thought behind the gift which was important. I was given a gift of an especially warm blanket to keep me warm and it not only warmed me but warmed my soul.”
 ~ DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) shelter resident

To Housing Stabilization Services (HSS) staff:
     “Thank you for all of your help along this journey. If it wasn’t for you and the help that Solid Ground has given me, I wouldn’t be where I am at today. Hell, I may have still been on the streets somewhere and that isn’t a good place to be. But you were able to give me the tools to move forward. Now I also know that it was a hard road getting here, and I had to put in a lot of the work myself. But the support that you gave me along the way is what really got me moving forward.

     “When you look over the sound, there seems to be no way to the other side without taking some kind of boat. Well Solid Ground was able to give me the tools, and a lot of little stepping stones, to slowly move across the bay to get to where I will need to be in life. Thanks to all of you there, even the ones that don’t know me. For it is the ones in the background that really do the work to keep things moving so that you can do the job that is set before you every day.”
 ~ Housing Stabilization Services participant

To Community Voice Mail (CVM) staff:
     “Community Voice Mail has literally been a life saver. I’m presently an outpatient cancer person. And the phone to contact with my pharmacy and with my doctor, as well as my primary doctor that referred me, was absolutely necessary. Without your phone assistance, I couldn’t have done it I don’t think. And also, a safe place to live – I found this place. So anyway, thanks a lot. I sure appreciate it.”
 ~ Community Voice Mail participant

To Broadview Shelter staff:
     “I still believe that there is power in gentleness, that there is more to us than flesh and bone, that life will bring more happiness if lived for peace and not possessions. I still believe people of gentleness and faith can change the world – one unseen, unsung, unrewarded kindness at a time – and nothing in this world can make me stop. Thank you for proving me right.”
 ~ Broadview Shelter mom

Financial Fitness staff:
     “Thank you for getting the pay day loans off my back! I really am feeling blessed for finally reaching out for help. Thanks to your phone calls, the pressure is off and I have a manageable payment schedule.”
 ~ Financial Fitness Boot Camp participant

Housing Stability Program staff:
     “Solid Ground, thank you so very much for helping me and my two autistic twin sons remain in our home. Were it not for your generosity we would be in a very dire situation. I am so thankful to everyone at Solid Ground who works so diligently to keep this project going. It was such a HUGE relief when I received that grant. I had not slept in days from worry which was making me ill and since I have Multiple Sclerosis and I work, I need to get sleep to remain healthy and mentally alert. You are my earthbound Angels – Thank You!”
 ~ Housing Stability participant

Thank You! children's art

Seattle Community Farm: A harvest slideshow

Seattle Community Farm Panorama

Seattle Community Farm panorama (all photos by John Bolivar, jbphotography.com)

On one of the first cool, drizzly fall days following this year’s record-breaking dry Seattle summer, local photographer John Bolivar visited our Lettuce Link program’s Seattle Community Farm at Rainier Vista to help us document 2012’s lush harvest. Although Farm Coordinator Scott Behmer claimed the harvest was beginning to wane, we still witnessed as Scott, Lettuce Link VISTA Amanda Lee and a community volunteer gathered and washed scores of pounds of beets, squash, heirloom tomatoes, radishes and greens.

This is the Seattle Community Farm’s second growing season, and according to the Lettuce Link Blog, more than 7,000 pounds of produce had been harvested and donated to the Rainier Valley Food Bank as of early October 2012 (more than twice last year’s harvest, when the Farm was still getting established). Enjoy this slideshow of the bounty!

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Honey bees at the Seattle Community Farm

This post, written by Scott Behmer, Seattle Community Farm Coordinator, originally appeared on the Lettuce Link blog.

Two honey bees

Dance of the honey bees

We recently acquired a new addition to the Seattle Community Farm. Well, thousands of new additions actually. The Seattle Community Farm is now home to two colonies of honey bees!

Honey bees, along with birds and bats, pollinate over one-third of the food that humans eat. Without honey bees it wouldn’t be just honey that we would miss, but many fruits, nuts and vegetables.

To prepare for the bees’ arrival, we built a small enclosure for the hives so people can view the hives up close without having bees fly in their faces. The enclosure also prevents people from accidentally bumping the hives.

The bees came from an apiary in California, by way of the Beez Neez in Snohomish. They arrived in a wood and mesh package that contained:

  • Three pounds of worker bees
  • One queen bee
  • Food for the bees during their travels

    Blue bee hive

    Blue bee hive

After we picked up the bee packages, we dumped them into their new hives, gave them some food to get started, and let them do their thing.

There are three types of honey bees:

  • Drones are the male bees. Every day they fly around and look for a queen bee to mate with. Drones are only a small percentage of the bees in the hive.
  • Worker bees are underdeveloped female bees. They are the majority of the bees in the hive, and they do many different tasks. The worker bees gather nectar and pollen from flowers, raise the young bee larva, and defend the hive from intruders.
  • Queen bees are fully developed female bees. A bee colony usually has only one queen bee, and she lays all of the eggs. A queen bee can lay 1,500 eggs in a single day!

Our new bees will pollinate flowers and crops in the surrounding area, provide a great learning tool, and (we hope) give us some sweet honey.

Interested in beekeeping? The Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, Urban Bee Project, and Seattle Tilth’s Backyard Beekeeping 101 class are great places to start!

A bazillion bees!

A bazillion bees!

Senate passes Farm Bill: So now what?

(Editor’s note: This post comes from Amelia Swinton of Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center. Amelia has been working with the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group to lobby for policy changes to help make our food systems more sustainable and better able to meet the nutritional and health needs of all Americans.)

Solid Ground’s Seattle Community Farm, one of the local projects previously funded through the Farm Bill

After weeks of debate, the United States Senate has passed a Farm Bill – or “Food & Farm Bill,” as many believe it should be called. Conceived over 80 years ago as a New Deal program to aid struggling farmers and feed hungry Americans, the Farm Bill has since evolved into our nation’s most influential piece of food and farming legislation. It sets and enforces the rules on what we eat, how much it costs, and under what conditions it is grown. The Senate’s Bill, which passed yesterday, boasts $23 billion in deficit reduction as it blueprints our food system over the next five years. Let’s take a closer look.

There is much cause to celebrate. The legislation eliminates direct payments to commodity farmers, which have been a blunt tool that overfunds industrial, monocrop agriculture. Instead, there will be greater emphasis on need-based crop insurance, including better support for organic growers. Important to Washington growers is an increase in Specialty Crop Block Grants – industry jargon meaning more money for fruits and veggies. The Senate voted to double fund Community Food Project grants, which levy federal money for community-level food system development and currently support Solid Ground’s Seattle Community Farm.

A new local fruit and vegetable program called the Hunger-Free Community Incentive Grants offers $100 million over five years to increase purchases by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) customers at farmers markets and other healthy food retailers, while another program would introduce a five-state Farm-to-School pilot project. Summarily, the Senate’s smörgåsbord would support rural economies, improve urban eaters’ access to healthy food, and subsidize agriculture more equitably – all amidst a climate of funding cuts.

Volunteer Peter Zimmerman at the Seattle Community Farm

But there is also reason to grieve, as the Senate Bill made significant chops to the SNAP program. It is deeply troubling to see $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP at a time when 46 million Americans are enrolled in this program, which is one of the few federal safety nets that expands and contracts based on need. According to the Community Food Security Coalition, these cuts will reduce benefits to approximately half a million food insecure families by $90 a month. Also disappointing were the underfunding of the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program, and the failure of an amendment that would have required labeling for genetically engineered foods.

In her statement on the Bill, WA Senator Patty Murray said, “This year’s Farm Bill is a victory for Washington State, our farmers, and our economy – and I was proud to support it. It makes important investments in jobs, provides meaningful support for our fruit and vegetable growers, and reforms many programs while continuing the critical safety net for farmers. I do not believe this legislation is perfect, and I am particularly concerned about the reduction in SNAP (food stamps).” Washington Senators Murray and Maria Cantwell have been champions of economically stimulating and socially just Farm Bill reforms, and we encourage constituents to send their thanks.

What’s next? Well, the food fight marches into the House of Representatives, where it must pass before Obama can sign it into law. The House had originally planned to mark-up the Bill next week, but this process has been delayed – and that is cause for concern.

“Whether there is a 2012 Farm Bill or not will largely rest in the hands of the top House Republican leadership,” says the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. No Farm Bill in 2012 means that funding levels from the 2008 Farm Bill will continue, which are far less progressive than those proposed by the Senate yesterday.

America is hungry for a Food & Farm Bill that addresses the real challenges facing its eaters. While the Senate’s bill makes important strides towards a fairer food system, it continues to overfund commodity agriculture at the expense of struggling Americans. As an agency committed to eliminating injustice in all its forms, we must continue to demand a better Bill. Our friends at the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group are developing a legislative agenda for the House session – whenever it happens – and we encourage you to stay tuned to their website or their Facebook page.

In the meantime, you can Dine Out to support local efforts to organize for a healthier Farm Bill! This Monday, June 25 from 4-10pm, the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group invites you to Local 360 in Belltown. A percentage of all checks will go towards this Seattle-based group’s work to educate and advocate for good food.

A message of thanks to our supporters

During the past year, you have helped Solid Ground expand efforts to end poverty for local families and individuals and move them toward stability. You helped us:

Brettler Family Place

Open Brettler Family Place…
providing 51 formerly homeless families with permanent housing and supportive services. Brettler Family Place is now a vibrant community of over 120 children and their parents. It is a place of stability, security and hope. We break ground to build an additional 54 homes in 2013!

A work party at Seattle Community Farm, June 2011

Seattle Community Farm, June 2011

Raise our first crops…
at the Seattle Community Farm, bringing fresh organic produce to people in the Rainier Valley who did not have access to affordable, healthy produce. The Farm is pioneering a work-trade volunteer model that values the talents and contributions of the community members who receive this nutritious food.

Launch the groundbreaking Pathway to Career AmeriCorps team…
which melds our national community service model with intensive work readiness training to help disadvantaged youth overcome barriers to success.

Break down barriers to homeless prevention services…
for immigrant and other marginalized communities by building intentional partnerships with community-based organizations that enable people to access services in a direct, culturally-sensitive and efficient manner.

Lead the statewide advocacy effort to pass the Foreclosure Fairness Bill…
giving consumers a mediation tool that results in fewer repossessed houses and more people staying in their homes.

These efforts and other improvements in our programs mean that Solid Ground will help more people than ever before in 2011.

But we need to do even more to heal the traumas caused by homelessness and hunger, and stabilize our community. To that end, we are looking ahead to implementing more comprehensive wrap-around services, giving the people who come to us even more tools and resources to be successful.

We are proud of our history of taking innovative action in response to community needs. Right now, we are focusing our passion for progressive social change on strategies that will increase our impact with the people we serve, so that we can meet them wherever they are and support them until they thrive.

Solid Ground's Continuum of Care

Solid Ground envisions a more comprehensive continuum of care, connecting our program participants to resources inside our doors as well as those outside. We look forward to sharing details with you in the coming year.

Since our early days as an emergency services provider in a little northend neighborhood, we have relied on the passion, creativity and financial support of caring people to counter poverty in our community. For over 38 years, donors and volunteers like you have helped our community weather the economic storms, build upon our strengths, and bring hundreds of thousands of our neighbors and friends to solid ground.

Most importantly, you joined with us to help build a strong community by giving over 64,000 vulnerable people support and opportunities to thrive.

On behalf of everyone at Solid Ground, thank you!

You can continue to support Solid Ground through our online donation portal.

Fresh sprouts: The Seattle Community Farm opens!

Caitlyn Gilman bubbles over at the Grand Opening of the Seattle Community Farm

We held the Grand Opening of the new Seattle Community Farm this past Saturday, June 25th. OK, that is such a blasé sentence, inadequate to convey the buoyant sense of hope and possibility that was in the air as surely as crops to feed a hungry community are about to break forth from the Farm.

The words “grand” and “opening” are so overused, conjuring images of chain stores popping up like weeds, nothing more grand than asphalt, nor more open than your wallet. But if we stop for a second to really consider these what these words mean, we’ll get a better sense of the what was going on this lovely afternoon.

Lettuce Link Program Manager Michelle Bates-Benetua

A third of an acre of neatly contoured garden beds, the Seattle Community Farm runs in a narrow strip from Andover to Lilac streets, a stone’s throw from the Link Light Rail tracks on MLK Jr Way S, snug up against the hindquarters of Beacon Hill.

While the size might hardly seem grand, the design of the farm certainly is!

Aidan Murphy and Caitlyn Gilman paint worm bins

Borne of the growing urban agriculture renaissance and shepherded by Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, the project has turned a neglected strip of defacto parking lot into a model for how we can nourish a community.

The Farm has drawn in the resources of the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, the Seattle Housing Authority (who owns the land), the US Department of Agriculture (which provided startup funds for the project), residents of the Rainier Vista housing development and Rainier Valley communities, local designers, artists, AmeriCorps teams and many others.

Landscape designer Eric Higbee and scarecrows

Through months of hard labor, the land has been transformed. Literally tons of rock for walls and structures, sand for drainage and topsoil were moved and sculpted into 90 loamy garden beds, a children’s garden, and a community gathering space. The site was designed by landscape architect Eric Higbee with input from the neighborhood.

Scott Behmer's office is cooler than yours!

Its transformation was  overseen by Farm Coordinator Scott Behmer, whose office in the corner of the large tool shed (built by volunteers from the adjacent Habitat for Humanity build site) is truly a room with a view, with an open window surveying the property.

Baby broccoli

All but one of the beds is planted, and while our dreary spring has dampened the progress, there are so many seeds germinating and starts rooting that you can practically hear the chard, beets, tomatoes and myriad other crops shooting from the soil and reaching for the sky. The land is vibrating with potential! A few weeks from now it will be a riot of organic produce, the grand outcome of sunshine, healthy soil, water and caring human hands.

Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin and guests

As for opening: In this newly created Rainier Vista neighborhood, the Farm represents a truly open social experiment. It is a vessel of opportunity to be filled by the volunteer contributions of people who have come to the Rainier Valley from all around the world. At the grand opening alone, among the 100 or so guests were community members whose gardening experience started in East Africa, the Pacific Islands, Mexico, the Middle East and even the Midwestern US.

Many hands make light work!

Through a developing work trade model, neighbors who volunteer will receive a bag of fresh produce for every two hours of work, giving people living on low-incomes direct access to the healthiest organic produce possible.

Produce not taken through the work trade model will be delivered to the nearby Rainier Valley food bank for distribution to the broader community.

The Farm!

The model is open and evolving to meet the neighbors’ needs and interests, gleaned through a series of community outreach meetings that brought people from many cultures and lands together over food, language translators and the desire to eat more healthful food.

AmeriCorps member Mariah Pepper leads a farm tour

The event this weekend featured a few guest speakers, Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin and Department of Neighborhoods’ Bernie Matsuno, but the real stars of the show were the men and women from the community. When the speeches were done they walked through the rows, knowingly eyeing the nascent crop, excited voices in languages I could not even identify, hands pointing with passion at the healthy future to come.

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.

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