Nestled behind a row of houses along Martin Luther King Way and the light rail in the Mount Baker neighborhood, the Seattle Community Farm (SCF) operates with fresh new direction and a committed new manager.
After seven years under Solid Ground management, Seattle Community Farm (SCF) has changed hands to Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS). When Solid Ground no longer had the capacity to manage the farm and its programs, we reached out to nonprofits operating in that community and identified ACRS as the best choice to assume management.
As ACRS is located only three blocks away from SCF, current Farm Manager Shanelle Donaldson says, “It made sense for ACRS to be the ones to do that – so the Friends of Seattle Community Farm, including folks from Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and the former Farm Manager, approached ACRS.” They agreed to the offer, and the farm and its potential future programs now operate alongside ACRS’ food bank. The project is now partially funded by a King Conservation District-Seattle Community Partnership grant.
A focus on culturally relevant foods
ACRS is a large, multicultural organization serving and empowering Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities and other underserved groups. SCF’s first growing season with ACRS is evidence of a commitment to this mission. “Here, we grow produce for the ACRS food bank, the only one in Washington state that serves culturally familiar foods for the API community year-round,” Shanelle explains. “That is one of the reasons we [ACRS] wanted the farm – so that we could grow produce that we know folks would be familiar with” – including Asian cabbage, beans, herbs and daikon radish.
“I want to make sure we are growing things like this,” she says, pointing to a freshly picked crate of daikon, the gnarled white roots exposed and still clinging to soil, waiting to be washed and sent to ACRS. When the harvest is small, the radishes, along with other freshly harvested produce, are used in a daily lunch that feeds community elders through Club Bamboo, a program under ACRS’ Aging & Adult Services department.
This same community eating the freshly prepared meals can be found engaging in what Shanelle calls “dirt therapy,” where individuals from ACRS’ Behavioral Health & Wellness services grow their own food in beds located in the lower half of SCF. They come out every morning, and for Shanelle, “It’s nice to see people watering, having fun and growing food that they can take home with them.”
While the transition from Solid Ground to ACRS has been generally smooth, SCF still experiences growing pains. Its first season was stunted due to the arrival – and continued residency – of rabbits, which destroyed most of the crops and caused late yields. Despite these natural “farm challenges,” Shanelle still harvests twice a week and observes growing yields.
“People of color don’t necessarily think that [farming] is for them – they aren’t a part of that movement – yet they have every right to be.” ~Shanelle Donaldson, SCF Farm Manager
And despite every intention for the farm to be operated by and for the surrounding community, “a lot of the neighbors here don’t go to ACRS, and a lot of the folks who go to ACRS don’t know the farm exists,” Shanelle says. There lies disconnect between those engaging with the farm and those who are fed by the farm, and Shanelle wishes to bring those two worlds together. “We want to let people know that we are here, that they can come here to learn, to make this space theirs.”
Shanelle desires more digital presence and community outreach, but for a largely one-woman operation, “It’s harder to get some stuff like that done.” Her work already involves “planting, harvesting, delivering – and it’s a lot for one person.” Volunteers play a large role, and Shanelle says that “it always amazes me what just one other person is able to do. It makes a huge difference.”
A rich food history
Shanelle hopes to reintroduce education programs similar to those in past years, while upholding the mission SCF now shares with ACRS. She particularly sees the farm as a space for storytelling. “There’s a lot of potential here for people to learn how to grow food, learn about food justice and about their history.”
To Shanelle, food holds more value than simply the nutrition it provides. This is important for the neighborhood’s substantial immigrant population, as “There is a rich history found in the food people eat, and they can reconnect to their culture.”
An inclusive food future
SCF stands out among other urban farms in Seattle. When people come to this farm, they are welcomed by a farmer of color. “We’ve noticed people are really excited about it,” Shanelle says. When it comes to urban farming, “People of color don’t necessarily think that it’s for them – they aren’t a part of that movement – yet they have every right to be.” She notes that most of the volunteers are also people of color and values SCF as a space for this community.
Though SCF occupies a specific niche in Seattle by serving a specific community, its impact remains characteristic of all urban farms. They are “a great way to rebuild and maintain community, a healing salve for folks dealing with displacement, and of course important for providing food.”
SCF has been reborn and rebranded. Under ACRS management and a devoted new Farm Manager, SCF is growing deeper roots and taller shoots to serve its community.