THE UW FARM is a 1.5-acre, student-powered learning space focused on cultivating community and teaching people how to build productive urban landscapes. Food and fresh flowers are simply the delicious and delightful byproducts.

Academics are integrated into every aspect of the farm. From English literature and environmental-journalism writing assignments to political science students examining the relationship between food and politics, practice and study, research and experimentation are nurtured alongside seedlings, fruit trees and flowering perennials.

By getting their hands in the dirt and harvesting a diversity of crops, students learn about soils and nutrition. Harvesting, washing and packing boxes of organic produce for UW Farm CSA shares and several campus dining locations fosters an awareness of food-system access and equity.

It all happens under the leadership of UW Farm manager Persis “Perry” Acworth, an experienced farmer with a background in environmental studies and natural resource management. “Production is a part of the curriculum,” she observes. “It’s another layer of learning when we can capture cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables that might otherwise be composted.”

The growing takes place at three locations on the Seattle campus. To the southwest, planting beds located between the Mercer Court Apartments (right off busy Northeast Pacific Street) amount to almost half an acre of production. Given the very public nature of the location, shifting shadows of neighboring buildings and planting strategies created to make the most of the sloping site, Mercer Court is a case study in managing challenges served up by an urban environment. Farther north, the farm manages a small garden in the courtyard of McMahon Hall that supplies fresh produce for Center Table, a popular campus dining establishment.


The main farm, located behind the Center for Urban Horticulture in the Union Bay Natural Area, enjoys full sun exposure and is planted with seasonal crops as well as fruit trees, permanent hedgerows and perennial flowering plants. A shelter provides space for workshops, processing the harvest and packing produce for distribution. A tool shed and nearby greenhouses round out this most traditionally farmlike growing space.

This week, in celebration of Earth Day, the UW Farm will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new commercial vermicomposting system housed in a custom shed on the main farm. “Worms are considered livestock by the United States Department of Agriculture,” Acworth enthuses. “Having the capacity to process food waste that’s unfit for human consumption will add another layer of sustainability to UW Farm, while supporting the health of the soil.”

Flowers are integral to the health and workings of the UW Farm. “Insectaries are designated areas for plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects,” says Acworth. “We don’t grow crops or disturb the space, because many beneficial insects overwinter in the soil.” In addition to welcoming the worms, student-grown seedlings of pollinator and insect-friendly plants, like calendula, anise hyssop and phacelia, will be planted on Earth Day.

Every three months or so, a new academic quarter begins, and a new round of students digs in. Although, as Acworth points out, the farm is at peak production in summer, just as student input drops off. Visit the UW Farm website to learn how you can get involved — everyone is welcome.

The website is a valuable learning resource, with links to a series of sustainability videos filmed on the farm; information on subscribing to fresh produce; and a calendar page where you can sign up for a volunteer shift, register for a bouquet-making workshop or make plans to shop the spring plant sale, a fundraiser for UW Farm and farm clubs.