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Yuppie-free & horsedrawn: The original Seattle farmers market

Roots of Tomorrow: Before the Beacon Food Forest and rooftop gardens, Seattle had a more original urban food revival.

This article is a part of "Roots of Tomorrow: Urbanism in our Blood," a weekly series on northwest urbanism. Start from the beginning with Parts 1, "How bikes led Seattle's first roads renaissance", Part 2, "Meet Seattle's first bike vigilantes," and Part 3, "The car that broke the back of Seattle's bike craze" here.

Seattle has been getting reacquainted with urban farming. The local food movement has ripened, helping the city gain an international reputation as a foodie town full of ravenous locavores. The Pike Place Market, preserved from the wrecking ball in the ‘70s, is a major tourist attraction and supplier of food to visitors, restaurants and downtown residents. It’s an icon of the way Seattle’s regional food and urban identity have become inextricably linked. Food is our heritage, and heritage — especially this heritage — is civic sustenance. 

Demand for fresh, local produce has driven a proliferation of new farmer’s markets throughout the city. Year-round, parking lots and playgrounds are turned into hunting grounds for fresh produce and craft foodstuffs — from ginger beer and hard ciders to honey and hams. Neighborhood parking strips have been replaced with corn crops, rooftops sprout green gardens and the folks next door just might be raising chickens. Organizations like Seattle Tilth have, since the mid-1970s, pioneered a resurgent interest in local, organic and urban food sources. There are scores of neighborhood plots and urban farms throughout the city, including a new “food forest” on Beacon Hill that has gained national attention.

Cultivated foods were always critical, to the Native Americans who harvested acorns and camas roots from native oak prairies, and to the first settlers, who cut old growth timber and turned their “stump farms” into real farms on fertile lands in the temperate Puget Sound climate. The soils of the local river valleys produced generously. In his history of Seattle, Clarence Bagley tells us that Duwamish farmer L. M. Collins raised crops worth $5,000 in 1853. “He raised turnips weighing from twenty-three to thirty-five pounds each, potatoes weighing as much as four pounds each, and onions two pounds each.”

And, when the budding village of Seattle was trying to attract Rev. David Blaine and his wife Catherine to settle on Elliott Bay that same year, founder Arthur Denny offered the reverend “a lot for a first fair garden” as an enticement. No report on the size of their turnips, but Catherine did establish Seattle’s first apple orchard – fitting for the city’s first school teacher.

As Seattle grew and Puget Sound’s transportation systems (roads, boats, ferries and rail) spread, the growing city’s food supply was largely outsourced to the urban margins and surrounding countryside. Still, the city itself did keep its hand in. In the early 20th century, Seattle owned and operated a 53-acre farm in the rich Kent Valley under the supervision of the city’s Streets and Sewers Department. Crops and wheat were grown and distributed to and through various municipal entities.

City Farm Hay harvest, 1921. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

There was abundance to share. In 1917, the farm’s bounty went to feed people at the city hospital, the city jail and the city-run Firland tuberculosis sanatorium. According to an inventory listed in the newspaper, this bounty included 2,500 pounds of peas, 16,420 pounds of tomatoes, 800 bunches of radishes, 1,650 heads of lettuce, 1,050 bunches of green onions, 1,150 pounds of wax beans, plus 80 sacks of sweet corn, 7,500 pounds of cucumbers, 75 tons of potatoes, 50 tons of cabbage, 12 tons of rutabagas, 30 tons of carrots, 15 tons of parsnips, 2 tons of dry onions and over a ton of wheat. The crops were raised with help from the inmates of the city jail.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Oct 23, 10:42 a.m. Inappropriate

To see how far the Public Market has strayed form the original voters mandate to Save the Market one only need to visit the Corner Market building at Pike and Pike place. A new fast-food yogurt shop has been installed and is sharing space at Corner Market Produce with the full support of the Market landlords/PDA. Upstairs in the Corner Market are two new businesses; one a futuristic coffee shop that just reeks of upper class money and design; down the hall a craft hard liquor distiller that looks like it belongs in a 5 star hotel. This top floor, once home to several small businesses and offices accessible by stairs, is now reached by a gleaming stainless steel elevator paid for by the public in the latest round of market renovations.

Anyone who thinks that the "Public" Market is for Seattle citizens to shop for groceries hasn't spent much time in the market lately. One long time market regular recently described the market as having the same size and function of a giant Cruise Ship, only on land.

chapala21

Posted Wed, Oct 23, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't want to speak about the continual shift in market businesses, but the elevator is a different matter. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a part of the building code now, and mandates that kind of access. When a building like this is renovated, it almost automatically triggers the requirement that it be brought up to current code, including fire and life safety as well as public access. I don't think that chapala21 means to sneer at the part of the population that cannot walk up a fight of stairs, but I think this dismissive comment undermines the rest of the argument.

sandik

Posted Wed, Oct 23, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I think that the only "building" renovation was the installation of the elevator. Two elevators were installed during this round of tax paid for market renovations; one in the Corner market making it easier tom access the expensive restaurants(of which the PDA takes a % of gross) and another elevator leading to the offices of the market Foundation (among others)and the now controlled and rented out by the PDA top floor business called The Meeting Place.

Further high end commercialization of the market can be seen on the new market steps to Western Avenue; a glass atrium restaurant on top of what was supposed to be a renovated Day Care Center open air playground but the paying parents objected (this was after it was built and the public stairs moved to accommodate the changes) when they found out the playground sat on top of the new consolidated electrical vault. So the Day Care center abandoned the "playground". After a couple vacant years it is now in the process of being built out as a glass walled and ceilinged high end restaurant. Welcome to the new "Public" Market...a mix of high end restaurants and boutique products mixed in with subsidized housing. Little left for the 1/2 half of the working population making 25K or less each year.

chapala21

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