Did you know that the City of Seattle owns a 40 acre farm southeast of Auburn? I didn’t until a few weeks ago – and last month I toured the property and discovered what an imaginative asset this can be for Seattle.
My Local Food Action Initiative (LFAI) is designed to encourage Seattle to increase the amount of local food we grow. That makes good ecological and economical sense. While we encourage people to grow food in Seattle, in their yards, in p-patch plots, and on other City properties, we know we can’t grow all of the local food that Seattle would like within the City limits. So we also have to take advantage of opportunities to add new farmers and protect rural land with agricultural potential. The Red Barn Ranch is a place we already own that Seattle Tilth is now leasing for demonstrating food production, farmer training, and job creation.
Red Barn Ranch was originally donated to the City by the basketball star Elgin Baylor as a camp for inner city kids. For many years it has been operated under a lease to a non-profit that runs camps there in the summer. But much of the land area is very suitable for agriculture – and can be farmed while keeping the summer camping program going.
Seattle Tilth, which is developing an expanded role in producing local food and promoting the local food economy, approached the City a couple of years ago about leasing part of Red Barn Ranch to see if it could be a source of food for Seattle. They work with new farmers who lease plots at Red Barn Ranch and learn how to operate a farm in the Northwest. Many of the farmers are from refugee and immigrant communities, who know how to farm and are used to growing their own foods, but don’t have access to land and need to adapt their skills to Northwest conditions. Seattle Tilth provides access to land and markets in Seattle, while teaching the needed skills. Farmers start with a ¼ acre plot, and can expand as they develop the skills to do so. Eventually, they will be ready to go independent, and Tilth will help them locate land and put a farm business plan into place for self-sufficiency. They began with 14 farmers, and are expanding to another 12 next year. Seattle Tilth recently received a $487,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the program.
It’s a great concept, and our tour group – which included staff from the Port of Seattle, Public Health, and other organizations – could see the potential that this land has. We are looking forward to working with Tilth to ensure that all of the arable land is brought into production – and that Seattle residents will have access to healthy food while creating income for new farmers.