At Solid Ground’s Giving Gardens at Marra Farm in South Park and Seattle Community Farm at Rainier Vista, we challenge people to think critically: Where does our food come from? What is good food? How does it grow, and how do you cook it? Who grows it? Are they treated and paid fairly? Who gets the food, and how far does it have to travel to get to them?
Through ongoing partnerships with schools and community groups as well as farm tours, field trips, volunteer work parties, and connecting people with advocacy actions to support food justice, Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program helps change people’s relationships with food while promoting equity and sustainability in our food systems.
Growing youthful awareness
For more than 15 years, Solid Ground has involved students from Concord International Elementary School in farm-to-table learning at Marra Farm during the school year. Groups from neighborhood organizations such as Boys & Girls clubs, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, South Park Community Center, and the YMCA also bring groups out to both farms throughout the year.
Lettuce Link Program Manager Nate Moxley says, “The children’s programs are our heart and soul – our primary focus. Through tours, even one visit can have a big impact.”
On one recent tour, Shorewood Elementary School brought 80 second graders to Marra Farm. The air was filled with the buzz of bees and excited young voices. The youth walked through four interactive zones, with lessons on plant biology, the environment, bees, chickens and the cultural history of Marra Farm.
Directing groups among rows of growing veggies, Farm Coordinator Scott Behmer asks, “What vegetable grows under the ground and is red?”… then offers a radish taste-test. For many kids, it’s their first time at a working farm, tasting cilantro or scallions straight from the earth.
“Classroom learning is a very limited experience. Being out in nature – doing and experiencing – taps into young people’s full range of senses,” says Nate. “Students engage in ways that wouldn’t be possible when they’re sitting behind a desk. One field trip can be transformative – it sticks with the kids.”
Education at the farms isn’t just for kids. Some of the most impactful learning happens among adults who volunteer at or tour the farms, and young adults studying sustainable agriculture through a Seattle University (SU) partnership course. With adults, it’s possible to “dig deeper” into food justice and human rights – to inspire people to advocate, volunteer, and invest in local farm projects.
Seattle Community Farm Coordinator Rachel Duthler shares some insight into the 10-week SU course that just finished in early June. Half of the course takes place in the classroom, taught by Professor Brenda Bourns, and half takes place at the farm. Rachel and Brenda collaborate to integrate classroom topics with experiential education.
Rachel says, “There’s in-depth learning happening – awareness of our food system and its impact on people, humans and the planet.” Students examine questions such as “Whose hands touched this food?” and “Are farmers treated equitably?”
They also make connections between humans and food in the farming system, and being intentional in knowing where their food comes from. They learn about oppressive practices on some farms: abuse or withheld wages under threat of deportation. And as they discover barriers to accessing fresh foods, misperceptions that people living on low incomes don’t want to eat healthy food are shattered.
Brenda says student feedback shows that “the farm experiences were far and away the most impactful part of the course. Many were especially moved by the topic of farmworkers’ rights, which were poignantly described by two of our members who had relevant personal experiences [coming from 1st- and 2nd-generation Mexican migrant worker families]. Several pointed to how much they had always taken their food for granted before thinking about the effort that goes into growing it.”
This transformative education can lead to long-term impact.
Rachel sums it up: “All students go away with a mindfulness about food sources – and many leave with a desire to make socially just, local, organic and sustainable choices.”
As our urban farm programs look to the future, we hope to increase opportunities for meaningful engagement for kids of all ages.