Last week I had the opportunity to visit Seattle Youth Garden Works in preparation for the upcoming annual foundation meeting. SYGW has asked for our support for tools and supplies to maintain their current site at the University of Washington Center of Urban Horticulture and expand to Rainier Beach in South Seattle. SYGW offers homeless and underserved youth in Seattle the opportunity to gain urban farming, cooking, and small business skills in a unique environment. I have been a fan of this Seattle Tilth urban agriculture training program since I first heard about it a few years ago and was excited to finally make the time to go out to the farm for a foundation site-visit.
Fortunately, it was a beautiful sunny day in Seattle so I could leave my umbrella and mud boots at home. Kristen Roewer, Program Coordinator, showed me around the plot of land at the UW. The site feels far from city life, even though it’s within site of Husky Stadium. Rows of chard and lettuce greeted me, along with pea vines climbing a fence near one of two greenhouses. Kristen proudly showed off the arugula, a SYGW specialty. Apparently arugula is labor intensive to harvest, so many growers shy away. Labor is easy to come by on this farm though, so the youth grow and sell arugula, along with many other crops, at two local farmers markets. I got to try a delicacy new to me – arugula flowers! I had been pruning back my own shoots, but after learning about the flowers on the farm that day, I’m now letting them grow in my own garden.
Recently, the program has begun to also focus on nutrition and cooking. Once a week the youth gather at the shelter on site to prepare a meal together so they can learn to cook what they grow. Not only does this teach them skills for their own kitchens, but gives them another way to connect with customers at the weekly farmers markets they sell produce at (in Wallingford and the U-District). I was of course delighted, since I’ve just completed two years of graduate study in food systems and strongly believe in the connection between what and how we eat. I was invited back at the farm this summer to join Kristen and the youth for a meal – I can’t wait! And since my brother Bryan, our PFF President, lives just blocks from the Wallingford Farmers Market, I’ll join him sometime soon to buy produce I saw being grown on this special plot of land.