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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Posts By Andrea Watts

Seattle Neighborhood Transforms Patch of Grass into Community Orchard

May 7, 2013 |

community orchard of west seattle“Wouldn’t it be great if we had a community orchard?” That question posed by Aviva Furman to her neighbor, Narcissa Nelson, was the beginning of the Community Orchard of West Seattle (COWS). This 1/8 acre demonstration garden showcases what a bit of networking, volunteerism and community support can achieve.

For newcomers to the orchard, the grass alongside its edge is a reminder of what the area used to be – a strip of grass that had to be mowed every year. The challenge initially for the organization was finding a site as the grant money from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods and support from key stakeholders was there, says Nelson. Without a site, “we were concerned with time and missing the planting opportunity of spring and the possibility of having to forfeit the grant money.” Read More

Going Beyond Nonperishables, Seattle Food Bank Provides Locally Grown Food to Those in Need

April 16, 2013 |

rainier valley food bankIt is no longer just nonperishable items consisting of canned vegetables, pasta, or packaged meals filling the shelves of food banks in the city of Seattle, WA. Instead, canned food is being supplemented with produce grown on local urban farms and neighborhood P-patches. The shift in the food system toward growing local, sustainable produce is carrying over into the emergency food world and “providing healthy food for our neighbors” is now just as important as providing supplemental food assistance, says Sam Osborne, executive director of the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

This food bank is one of 27 within the city of Seattle and is the third or fourth busiest, according to Osborne. Three paid employees, two Americorps members and 20-35 volunteers served over 124,000 clients last year with an average of 10,000-11,000 clients visiting the food bank each month. Osborne describes their clients as representing a “microcosm of the planet” because the Rainier Valley neighborhood is recognized as the most diverse zip code in the nation. Read More

Beacon Food Forest Brings Together Diverse Community to Regenerate Public Lands

April 10, 2013 |
Blueberries growing in the Beacon Food Forest. Photo Credit. Beacon Food Forest.

Blueberries growing in the Beacon Food Forest. Photo Credit. Beacon Food Forest.

Young fruit and nut trees, P-patch beds, and woodchip paths are just the latest milestones of a three-year volunteer effort to create a food forest in the city of Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. This food forest represents “exactly the opposite of the tragedy of the commons,” said Glenn Herlihy, manager of field work, marketing, and communication for the Beacon Food Forest. Through its work, Beacon Food Forest is “regenerating public land” and bringing together a diverse community through the common ground of plants.

The Beacon Food Forest started as a final project that Herlihy and his classmates created in 2009 for a permaculture design class. The class “decided to take it [our project] to the community [in Beacon Hill]” to see if there was support for its creation and there was, said Herlihy. At the same time, plans were underway to revitalize Jefferson Park, also in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. Seeing the community support for the food forest, the park’s master design designated an area as an arboretum. Read More

WSU Extension Offers Home Food Production Program for those Limited by Financial or Physical Hardship

March 28, 2013 |

A new educational program in Cowlitz County, Wash., is taking the fear out of gardening and enabling people who are limited by financial or physical hardship to experience the rewards of having their own garden. In the program’s first year, there were 22 applicants vying for 10 spots; this year, there are 61.

“You really get to know these people after reading the application,” says Gary Fredricks, the director of the WSU Extension office for Cowlitz County. From this year’s 61 applicants, he and the committee of Master Gardeners selected the 10 applicants that are the next cohort of the Home Vegetable Educational Garden (VEG) program. Read More

Thriving Urban Farm Emerges from Unique Partnership Between Waste Water Plant and University

March 21, 2013 |

A wastewater treatment plant as the site for an urban farm may seem unusual, but for Michael Boyle, a professor at Seattle University in the Environmental Studies department and director of the Urban Farm, the pairing is a natural fit. “In our time, there can’t be waste,” Boyle explains, and it is only fitting that GroCo, a locally-produced biosolids compost whose material originates at the treatment plant, is used as fertilizer.

On two acres tucked away in the southern portion of King County’s South Treatment Plant sits Urban Farm, a joint venture between Seattle University and King County Waste Water Division. The partnership came about in 2010 when Casey Plank, a former student working in the Waste Water Division, approached Boyle with the idea of developing a community project. Read More

Organic CSA in Rochester, WA Finds Success in Sticking with What People Know

March 7, 2013 |

Rising River Farm CSA Basket. Photo Credit: Rising River Farm.

During this time of year, Rising River Farm’s namesake, the Chehalis River, flows fast and steady, and even though the rainy weather makes it seem that spring is months away, Jennifer Belknap is itching to get outside. Even after 15 years of co-running Rochester, WA-based Rising River Farm with her husband, Jim McGinn, she is still anxious to begin planting the seeds that usher in another season.

Rising River Farm began in 1994 when Jim and two friends started a three-acre community supported agriculture (CSA) farm on land leased from Betsie DeWreede of Independence Valley Farm, located just outside of Rochester, Washington. Read More

Ranch in Hand, Two Budding Ag Entrepreneurs Seek to Grow Pastured Poultry Business

February 20, 2013 |

It’s quiet right now at the Greenhorn Ranch, but come Friday, after the first batch of chicks is delivered, Terry Gentry and Joan Hurst will be busy for the next eight months nurturing and processing chickens. As owners of G & H Pastured Poultry LLC, their mission is to raise healthy poultry.

When the women purchased 20 acres outside of McCleary, Wash., in 1997, their vision of the property didn’t include a poultry business. They thought of themselves as “gentleman ranchers,” Joan says, and the vision for the property evolved over time. Read More

Fledgling Biochar Company Makes it Better, Faster, Cheaper to Build Healthy Soil

February 18, 2013 |

Soil is not just a growing medium; it is an ecosystem whose health affects the yield and taste of produce. “Synthetic fertilizer increases [crop] yield,” says J.D. Tovey, chief marketing officer of Carbon Cultures, “but it’s artificial. Biochar is about increasing the health of the soil.” And that is the mission of Carbon Cultures: to build healthy soils, healthy forests, and healthy people through the use of biochar.

Biochar is essentially a charcoal that is created by the burning of biomass at low temperatures, and its use as a soil amendment has a long history. Long-time farmers know what biochar is, Tovey says. “My grandfather would talk about it,” but people new to farming aren’t necessarily aware of biochar and its benefits. A famous example of a biochar-amended soil is the Terra Preta soil found in the Amazon Basin. This soil’s creation by humans occurred between 450 BC and AD 950, and centuries later, it is still a fertile soil, demonstrating that “biochar doesn’t lose its effectiveness,” Tovey says, and contributes to the long-term fertility of soil. Read More