For many Seattleites, 2010 meant the continuation of layoffs and economic woes, but it's actually been a pretty good year for urban farming. Mayor McGinn declared 2010 "The Year of Urban Agriculture" and had strawberries and tomatoes planted on his office's balcony. The city passed Council Bill 116907, which, among other things, formally legalizes and recognizes urban gardening, and spells out exactly where and how urban farms can be used. Operations such as City Grown and Magic Bean have expanded and garnered Seattle Times press coverage. September 25th of this year is also when Lettuce Link's newest project is slated to begin: An urban garden in the Rainier Valley neighborhood that will enable community members to grow, harvest and eat fresh produce on a one-third acre plot of land.
Lettuce Link, a division of the nonprofit organization Solid Ground (formerly the Fremont Public Association), has been providing low-income families in Seattle with fresh produce and gardening information since 1988. One of their main projects currently takes place at Marra Farm, in the South Park neighborhood. Volunteers, led by farm coordinator Sue McGann, grow and harvest fresh produce, which then goes to local organizations such as the Providence Regina House Food Bank and Concord Elementary.
Lettuce Link's new project, called Seattle Community Farm, will be tended entirely by Rainier Valley residents. Food will be shared based on hours worked in the garden. Excess food will go to the Rainier Valley Food Bank and Providence Regina House Food Bank. Over the past year, Lettuce Link has been doing extensive community outreach to prepare Rainier Valley residents for the farm's arrival.
"It's a community of about seven language groups, with languages such as Ethiopian, Sudanese and Somali. We've arranged lots of public meetings and have got people really excited about it," says McGann.
Lettuce Link has also planned a children's garden to provide education and social opportunities for the offspring of Rainier Valley residents.
But what about urban agriculture in general? Is it more than just a Seattle phenomenon? Is there nationwide need for it?
McGann thinks so. She believes that urban agriculture is not just catching on in Seattle, it's here to stay.
"Urban agriculture is on the front burner because of the economy, because of the food crisis. People are growing food for many different reasons. Maybe they lost their job or had their hours cut. Maybe it's because they tasted their grandma's homegrown produce. Maybe it's because Michelle Obama told them to. Maybe it's because of the E. coli and salmonella and mad cow [disease] outbreaks that have become so common now."
Transportation costs are another reason to embrace urban agriculture. As the cost of oil steadily increases, locally grown produce looks more and more economically appetizing.
Says McGann,"Industrial agriculture is still contributing to climate change. And a lot of it is the transportation of food all around the planet in a very unsustainable manner. If we're going to import something, let's not import broccoli. That grows really well here. Let's import coffee or mangoes."
Scott Behmer, co-owner of City Grown, a Seattle urban farm business that grows and sells produce on four different plots in the Central District, Wallingford and Ballard, also cites the societal benefits of urban agriculture.
"There was a study that said that every time a P-Patch is put in, crime in the neighborhood goes down. It can connect people, it can really unify communities to be growing food together."
Behmer and his business partner Noelani Alexander, grow standard row crops such as kale, chard, collards, zucchini, cucumber and potatoes on their 4,000 square feet of land.
Behmer sees the new legislation as something that will be a "good first step" toward a more urban agriculture- friendly Seattle. The Bill specifically does the following: it clarifies definitions for terms such as horticulture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, community gardens and urban farms; it allows community gardens and urban farms in all zones (with some size restrictions); it allows rooftop greenhouses a 15 foot exception to height limits if the rooftop is dedicated to food production; It increases the number of potential locations for farmers markets; and it increases the number of domestic fowl permitted on a private lot from three to eight.
McGann also believes that this new legislation will help the city improve, and specifically, "reverse the harmful policies that didn't make sense."
The bill is scheduled to take effect on September 23, 2010.