Urban and Suburban Agriculture Empowers Environmental Stewards
by: Seattle Tilth: Andrea Platt Dwyer Posted on: May 29, 2012
Photo: Seattle Tilth
By Andrea Dwyer, Executive Director of Seattle Tilth
Editor’s Note: An idea worth replicating. Read below to see how agriculture can empower the underrepresented.
Seattle Tilth promotes the belief that agriculture – when done right – can beneficially affect climate change and environmental diversity while feeding people and empowering those in need. Food production has traditionally been seen as a rural issue, but as food insecurity and poor health become acute in U.S. cities, people are beginning to make the connection between what they eat, where their food comes from, and how it is grown with their personal health and the health of our environment.
For the past three decades, Seattle Tilth has provided science-based education and hands on experiences that are designed to help individuals develop a stronger relationship with the natural world and empower them to take personal action that will contribute to healthier lifestyles and a healthier environment. Our classes teach people how to grow their own food organically, raise urban livestock and develop healthy soil in an urban environment.
Sustainable food production is the primary vehicle we use to engage and educate community members about the range of environmental challenges we all face. It’s especially attractive because people can take tangible steps to make a positive impact and see results. Learning about organic gardening and farming, people see more clearly how environmental challenges are all linked. Through our education programs, both adults and children have the opportunity to experience growing their own food locally, harvesting it and preparing healthy fresh meals while learning to respect and care for the environment. In addition to our educational programs, we maintain five learning gardens and three farms, where we demonstrate innovative organic food production techniques and offer hands-on experiences.
Seattle Tilth’s classes and programs teach participants how to eliminate the use of dangerous chemicals and pesticides because of the harmful effects on personal health and the environment. Our program participants experience easy, hands-on techniques for natural yard-care and integrated pest management. We also teach strategies to reduce water usage and stormwater runoff. Techniques include slowing or reducing runoff by building healthy soil with mulch and organic compost, growing well chosen plants and rain gardens, and using cisterns, swales and permeable paving.
Children’s education programs are based on our unique “Teaching Peace through Gardening” curriculum. Whether they are learning in the garden or the classroom, each child we interact with is able to learn about where food comes from, the importance of our limited natural resources, and his or her role in caring for the environment around us. They become young environmental stewards.
People with the least economic means are in greatest need of better access to healthy food sources and are more often exposed to greater environmental pollution. The food banks are seeing the highest demand for their services in recent history. Hunger, malnourishment, obesity and food-related disease are of increasing concern in this country. Therefore, Seattle Tilth has recently established a number of new initiatives that serve vulnerable populations in the Seattle area. Programs include Seattle Youth Garden Works, Seattle Tilth Farm Works, and the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands.
Seattle Youth Garden Works is a homeless and underserved youth job-training program. Youth are employed while they learn to grow, package, and sell produce at farmers markets and through local restaurants. They participate in all aspects of the food system while gaining a wide range of employment skills.
Seattle Tilth Farm Works is a small farm business incubator. By providing an educational course and subsidized access to land, utilities, and equipment, the program gives low-income immigrants and refugees who want to establish a small farm the information, tools and support they need to do so successfully. In addition, through a small food distribution hub in the Seattle Metro area, we facilitate the development of market channels to ensure these new farms become viable businesses with a future.
Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands is Seattle Tilth’s newest initiative. A former nursery for Seattle Parks and Recreation, programs offered on-site will include organic food production and distribution, nutrition education, composting, and wetlands management. Over time, these programs will benefit the community in a variety of ways. Food production and distribution programs will add a needed supply of fresh, organic food for the surrounding community. Community members engaged in the food production will come from diverse ethnic, racial, and socio-economic groups represented in Rainier Valley. These farmers and gardeners will provide a source of culturally appropriate and historically relevant foods for their families, neighbors and communities.
Sometimes people dismiss the value of urban and suburban agriculture. We’ve found that people not only eat more healthy food when they have the experience of growing it themselves, but they also make decisions that support a healthy environment after getting their hands in the soil and eating straight from the source.
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