The farm is in its beginning stages, but the urban agricultural movement has arrived in Rainier Valley.
THE FIRST commercial farm on public land in Seattle went in for permit this spring. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” says Rachael Meyer, project manager for the Berger Partnership. Meyer is leading the team planning for the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, an initiative that’s already become a focal point for this Southeast Seattle community.
The seven-acre site was formerly the Seattle Parks Department’s Atlantic City Nursery. When, in 2009, Parks Department officials decided to close the nursery, they asked the neighborhood for ideas on how best to use the land. The resulting farm is in its beginning stages, but with help from Seattle Tilth and an active friends group, the urban agricultural movement has arrived in Rainier Valley.
The project will be the first urban farm permitted under a new Seattle code written in 2010. It doesn’t quite fit the parameters of the code, because only a little more than a quarter of the land will be farmed. The rest is wetland and wetland buffer, an area where students from nearby high schools are already pulling out invasives such as blackberries. “The wetlands and the farm are so symbiotic,” says Meyer. “The farmers didn’t need to irrigate the first year because the water table was so high.” A planned composting facility will use wetland waste to further enrich the farmland soil.
The Berger Partnership was charged with handling the public process for deciding what to do and how to manage the site. The first phase was developing the master plan and creating construction documents for utilities, moving the greenhouses and designing a new plan for the flow of vehicles and people. In the second phase, a new classroom with working kitchen will be built, along with restrooms, farming structures, vehicle storage and, it’s hoped, some solar structures.
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So far, the money is coming from a Parks Department grant. The friends group continues to shape the site’s development. Seattle Tilth has a contract to manage the place — developing programs, teaching classes and inviting the public to help with wetland restoration, growing crops, and even sharing a meal, fresh from the garden and cooked on site.
Rainier Beach, which boasts one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country, came together in its desire to increase the availability of fresh food in the community. Translators were involved in every public meeting. Ethnic groups participated, including East African elders. All these varied traditions, the plants and practices of various countries and backgrounds, enrich the new farm.
“The goal is for self-sufficiency over time,” says Meyer. The plan is to develop relationships with restaurants. People will be able to stop by and pick up a bag of fresh food at the farmstand. There’s a vision for the farm to become a regional learning center, with greenhouse production, farming in the ground, chickens, ducks, bees and composting classes. Meyer hopes to see edibles, such as blueberries and potatoes, growing in the wetland buffer.
If permitting proceeds apace, construction of Phase 1 will start late summer. The Seattle Parks Foundation is raising money for the second phase, to be completed in 2014. If you’d like to be part of bringing new skills and fresh food to the Rainier Valley, contact program director Becca Aue at email@example.com.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.