IMAGINE A SMALL FARM in a big city dedicated to growing food, fostering relationships and cultivating the next generation of able gardeners and healthy eaters. Now picture a not-for-profit, volunteer-driven endeavor dedicated to health and healing, community and sustenance. Welcome to Nurturing Roots (NurturingRootsFarm.org).
Founded in 2016, Nurturing Roots Farm is located on a city-size block at Beacon Avenue South and South Graham Street in South Beacon Hill. Executive director Nyema Clark grew up nearby and remembers the site when it was just an overgrown pea patch. Today, the working farm is filled with fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and chickens.
Twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, anyone and everyone is invited to show up, dig in and learn. “Beyond book knowledge or looking something up on the internet, we’re inviting you to love on a plant — pick and taste lettuce that’s still alive,” Clark says, as she encourages me to nibble a garlic leaf. (It’s a revelation of mild sweet flavor that would be amazing in a salad — I learned something new and delicious!)
Volunteers leave with smiles on their faces and dirt on their hands, with valuable new skills and a free share of whatever crop is ready to harvest.
Nurturing Roots is more than a farm. It also hosts farm-to-table dinners, yoga therapy, archery classes and hands-on garden workshops with topics that range from planting fundamentals and crafting herbal seasoning mixes and body-care products to discussing systemic oppression and its impact on the food system.
“We talk about how we can value food and provide for ourselves,” says Clark. “Self-sustainable agriculture is more than just getting out in the garden. It’s about understanding and finding a way to harness all the different properties of the plants, not only for flavor but also for nutrition and health.”
This year, when COVID-19 shut things down just as the growing season was getting underway, Nurturing Roots adapted resourcefully, distributing “Grow at Home” boxes with free vegetable starts and info sheets with grow tips for beginning gardeners.
As the season progressed and the stay-at-home order continued, Clark continued to adapt Nurturing Roots’ message for a broader audience on social media. With funding support from Seattle Foundation’s Neighbor to Neighbor program, Clark and company produced a series of short instructional videos they call “Nurturing Roots at Home.” “A lot of folks find us on Facebook or Instagram and pay it forward with shares, tags and word-of-mouth,” she says. “But I want to be a lot better at catching folks who aren’t on social media, especially our elders.”
Managing a working farm and educational center that’s also a community resource and gathering space is ambitious. I ask Clark about her hopes for the future. “My dream is to own our space,” she answers. “Right now, we lease from our church.” Other plans include adding more edible landscaping to the farm and creating a medicinal garden with plants recently donated by Bastyr University. Oh, and educational field trips for schoolkids, a larger production farm outside the city to support a CSA, and future collaborations with neighbors and other producers. Clark says, “Everyone has a place at the farm.”