The Seattle Urban Farm Co.’s Urban Fringe Farm in Woodinville grows lettuces for The Pink Door, as well as vegetables and herbs for other Seattle-area restaurants.
THIS STORY STARTS with an unlikely bit of synchronicity and a salad.
Earlier this summer, on a warm afternoon, I met friends for lunch on the deck of The Pink Door restaurant at Pike Place Market. Puget Sound was sparkling in the sun, and the conversation was lively. Yet, all my attention was focused on the tender, buttery leaves of lettuce in my salad — could it really be as absolutely fresh as it looked and tasted?
Turns out those lettuces are grown locally and were picked just that morning. Much of The Pink Door’s salad greens are grown at an organic farm 18 miles from Seattle. And — here’s the coincidence part — I already had a date set up to talk with Colin McCrate of Seattle Urban Farm Co. about his company’s Urban Fringe Farm in Woodinville. That’s where he grows lettuces for The Pink Door, as well as vegetables and herbs for other Seattle-area restaurants.
“It was the closest organic farmland we could find to the city,” says McCrate. The property is privately owned, but it’s in a Farmland Trust designated for organic farming. Which suited McCrate, who had been looking for land for more than a year. His plan was to lease farmlets to restaurants that want to serve locally grown produce but don’t have space or time to grow it themselves.
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The Urban Fringe Farm is in only its second season, and there have been challenges.
“I’ve been on lots of weedy farms, but this property had the most incredible weed seed bank,” says McCrate of the struggle to get the farm up and going. Seattle Urban Farm Co. creates a crop list each season for chefs to choose from. The crew plants, tends, weeds, waters, harvests and delivers the food to the restaurants.
The farming team relishes working with the chefs’ specific requests. It took a couple of seasons to find just the right head of lettuce, in terms of flavor and crispness, to suit Stoneburner in Ballard, which shares a farm with neighboring Bastille Cafe & Bar. Each restaurant grows cauliflower, kale, broccoli and huge patches of chives, parsley and basil on their half-acre.
For Heong Soon Park, chef/owner of Bacco Cafe and Tray Kitchen, the crew grows more than a dozen types of bok choy, as well as a variety of other vegetables. Then there’s the Green Juju Kitchen, which needs a huge volume of kale, parsley and zucchini to produce its organic dog-food supplement.
And that fabulous lettuce at The Pink Door? Owner Jackie Roberts, an avid food gardener herself, is leasing a half-acre to grow lettuces from her favorite Italian seeds.
“The mix is pretty and perfumed,” says Roberts. McCrate describes it as “complicated, interesting, including mustard and beet greens, and a secret ingredient.”
You can sample the farm-fresh mix yourself in the “Jackie’s Favorite Greens” salad on The Pink Door menu this summer.
McCrate comes back to the big picture of how the partnership helps keep urban farmers employed.
“What I’d really like to see is that every new restaurant has a farming component built into its business plan from the beginning,” he says. “Since these chefs have many more opportunities to interact with the public, I hope we’re building a network of advocates who can tell the story of sustainable farming in a sincere and educated way.”