Food is an integral component of how and why humans connect to nature. In relation to increasing forces such as globalization, urbanization and industrialization, a widening disconnect has been developing between us and nature, and the quality and availability of food has suffered because of that.
Marra Farm, a four-acre historic urban farm in South Park, Seattle, is one local antidote to this disconnect. Operated by the Marra Farm Coalition, the Farm produces over 13,000 lbs of organic produce a year, providing residents of the South Park community with a vital source of healthy food. Solid Ground is a long-time Coalition member, maintaining a Giving Garden at Marra Farm, and connecting students and community members to nutrition education and environmentally sustainable gardening resources.
Isabel Carrera Zamanillo is a current doctoral student at the University of Washington pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences. She has already earned her BS in Biology and MS in Biological Sciences, and recently finished working on Fotohistorias – an exhibition of photos and stories detailing how families at Marra Farm connect to nature through food. She believes that Marra Farm really connects with her work at the University of Washington because it provides fresh, organic food for a lot of people who are in an urban food desert – a place where healthy options are very sparse or very expensive.
Isabel particularly praises Solid Ground’s outreach efforts at Marra Farm, because they connect immigrant and underserved communities directly to those healthy food options — and because of how receptive the agency was to work together on the Fotohistorias project, which “spoke to the great sense of collaboration that is present in the organization.”
Isabel states that understanding what humans call nature, and looking at our interaction with it, were two of the passions that led her to working on the Fotohistorias project. It was experiences in her hometown of Mexico City – where both traditional and affordable local fresh food is available – that were significant in developing those passions however. Additionally, as someone who immigrated to Seattle, she is particularly focused on how migration might affect the humans and nature connection too.
She observed that social relationships are built and procured around food in her home country; there are fiestas, meetings, reunions and more, all of which feature specific foods and preparation. Food acts as a facilitator of connection in Mexico. In Seattle, she has been a part of community fairs and competitions where memories and culture from around the world are shared between participants. A common theme she has noted is that it is important for everyone to hold onto the memories of their origin through food; every time she bites into a good, authentic taco or torta, she is transported straight back home to Mexico City. When she visited Marra Farm, she found this to be pretty common, sharing that “The attendees shared similar experiences no matter the country of origin.”
The changing dynamics of food access and, in a larger sense, personal connection to the natural environment are other major issues that Isabel hopes her project touches on. She believes that society as a whole needs to focus more on how different groups of people each have their own connection to nature, and that sometimes, general terms and phrases like “going green” or “sustainability” can blanket and generalize them.
Western, and more specifically American consumerism, really does almost incentivize a division between humans and nature through the convenience of heading down to the closest supermarket and engaging with practices such as bulk buying, not to mention the amount of food that is wasted every single day when nobody buys it. Growing your own food brings back that connection with nature, but as Isabel points out, after working 40 hours a week and considering how much the cost of living has increased, people are often forced to spend their time and resources elsewhere
Marra Farm is a space that allows people to grow their own food in an area where other options are scarce. It allows for the rekindling of a connection with nature, as well as providing a platform for diverse human interaction. Isabel sums up the importance of Marra Farm by stating that it is a place where “people can connect with other human beings and pay attention to the natural environment, where they recover a sense of belonging both socially and environmentally.”
She adds, “Places like Marra Farm are built through shared experiences and act not only as green locations, but as centers of integration. Urban lifestyle tends to isolate people, and this isolation is the source of much conflict. The related issue is that food security is a human right, so access to healthy and natural food should be promoted not only by authorities, but embraced by citizens as well. It is our responsibility to defend and enact this right, and Marra Farm is a great space to make this possible.”