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Urban farming gains foothold in Seattle

From different corners in the city, the urban agriculture movement grows and grows.

(Page 2 of 3)

And it turns out that for many in Seattle, urban farming was that solution. For Portage Bay Grange, this rising interest has meant that the business has gone from the back of a truck, to a garage, to finally landing smack dab in the middle of the city about two years ago.

Genung explained that most people start with chickens, because they’re simple to take care of. “You can set up a chicken coop in an 11-foot-by-6.5-foot area that will provide your family with a dozen to a dozen and a half eggs per week — easily,” he said.

Genung said that once people take a small step into urban farming, they often see all of the other opportunities for agriculture, and simply expand their farm from there.

Annette Cottrell, who took care of her family’s vegetable needs all year round through her 1/8-acre urban farm in Seattle, said it saved her a lot of money on food. But the main reason she kept expanding the crops she produced was because of the health benefits.

“I started my urban farm in response to realizing just how bad industrialized food had become,” said Cottrell. “I have two young kids and it's my job as a parent to make them as healthy as possible. That's just not possible feeding them store-bought food so I decided to take food production as far as I could on my tiny city lot.”

After about two years of perfecting her farm, she had 22 fruit and nut trees, plus all different types of berries and vegetables, chickens, ducks, rabbits and mason bees. Last year she moved her family to a house in Carnation, which is on five acres, so that she could expand her farm even further.

Noelani Alexander, who graduated from the University of Washington in 2005, and her two business partners, have found a way to expand their urban farm in the confines of the city; they simply grow crops primarily in other people’s yards. The three operate "City Grown Seattle," a multi-plot urban farm that grows vegetables for market.

Like Cottrell, they have everything from strawberries and lettuce to chickens and rabbits. But instead of focusing on eating it themselves, they focus on selling the vegetables twice a week, once at the Wallingford Farmer’s Market and once in front of their house on Eastern Ave in Wallingford.

Alexander said that although her work in urban farming has helped her save money on food, given that a quarter of the food she eats comes from her own backyard, she and her business partners are just starting to see a pay-off from their business.

“From 'City Grown,' we have just seen the first month's money come to us to replenish all the money that has gone out,” she said. “All of the animals have needed housing and feed before they produced any actual food for us.”

There is another group of young people in Seattle who has a reason for taking part in urban farming. This group is made up of University of Washington students who are members of the college's "farm" and want some semblance of food independence after growing up during the recession.

Mollie Tarte, who graduated from UW in June and was the farm’s outreach coordinator, said the main reason that students like to get involved in the farm is because they feel like they can actually make a change in society.

“Their interest is kind of piqued because they learn about how screwed up our conventional food system is,” said Tarte. “It’s one of the few issues that you personally can actually improve the way things are. You can grow your own food, that is something you can do.”

The farm was started in 2004 by a group of University of Washington students in a biology class. The students claimed a tiny section of land, covered by gravel that was owned by the school, and started to plant fruits and vegetables.


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