Rainier Beach Urban Farm inspires the next generation of leaders to engage in food production

At a time when our community connections are strained and food security is of concern, it is inspiring to look at a program that is cultivating not just crops, but leadership. At Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands (RBUFW), young people are taking active roles to build a just and abundant food future that is vital to our sustenance and economy. They are working to develop connections with their community and farming through meaningful learning experiences in fields, farms, and kitchens.

Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands is a community hub for food, urban farming, and environmental education in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood co-operated by Tilth Alliance and Friends of Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Approximately half of the site is dedicated to organic food production and the other half is dedicated to restoring a natural wetlands and buffer zone.

The farm offers a variety of community education classes and workshops including growing and preserving your own food and conserving the environment. During the 2019 harvest season, the Local Food team spoke with Tilth Alliance staff to learn more about RBUFW programs, youth engagement, and what’s next for youth participants and the farm.

What has been going on at RBUFW recently?

“Rainier Beach Urban Farm began operating in May 2018 after our year-and-a-half-long construction project concluded,” said Melissa Spear, Executive Director at Tilth Alliance.

After construction, the farm became a site not only for food production, but also for hosting the Good Food Bags program, youth employment program, community dinners, and, starting this year, a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) and farm stand.

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2019 RBUFW youth employment program participants engaging in wetland restoration activities

“Agricultural production at the farm is the heart of our organization,” Spear said. “After construction, replanting and renovations had to occur to be able to grow food on the farm.”

“Now that food production has gone up significantly since construction, the farmers are excited to start offering a CSA program later this year,” she said. “We are also opening a farm stand that will provide food to the local community through a pay as you can system. We want people who cannot afford healthy and local fruits and vegetables to be able to enjoy them as much as everyone else.”

Who is growing the produce for the farm stand and other programs?

“We have a youth employment program at RBUFW where we hire 12 youth workers to participate in a six-week program from mid-July to mid-August to learn about food production and gain urban farming skills and knowledge,” said Suez Gebretsadik, Farm and Youth Employment Project Manager at Tilth Alliance.

“The youth participants engage in on-farm tasks, habitat restoration, and wetland restoration with the East African elders who frequently work on the farm,” said Gebretsadik. “The youth are involved in many farming activities, from planting to weeding, to garden bed building. They learn about propagation, harvesting, and washing and preparing produce for community dinners or to be donated at nearby food banks.”

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2019 youth participants engaging in wetland restoration with the East African elder volunteers

“The youth participants are able to see the entire farm business cycle from planting to distribution,” said Gebretsadik.

“We are really excited to start a farm stand this year,” said Gebretsadik. “Not only will the youth participants grow some of the food for the farm stand, but they will also learn about marketing produce and general customer service skills.”

Youth learning and engagement in farming and team building

Youth participants are exposed to food production and wetland restoration techniques, but perhaps the most important part of the youth engagement program is the team and community building that helps cultivate a connection to our food system.

“At the beginning of the youth employment program, we sign a community contract, which is the foundation of our team and includes basic principles we expect from each other, such as mutual respect and active listening,” said Gebretsadik. “This contract serves as a way to build a space safe on the farm.

“Throughout the six-week program, we engage youth participants in team building activities that help build the connection between their daily lives and the local food system,” said Gebretsadik. “We don’t expect all of the youth participants to become farmers, but we want them to become invested in our farm and build the type of community that is interconnected and whole.

“In the future, we plan to provide professional and job training workshops, such as resume, interview, and goal-setting workshops, so that food production and farming can be a vehicle for personal and professional youth development,” said Gebretsadik.

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Team building activity with 2019 RBUFW youth participants

Why is it important for youth members of the community to engage in farming?

“In my experience, there is a stigma around farming, where people believe farming can only happen in rural areas and not in the city,” said Gebretsadik. “This disconnect removes urban farming from people’s minds as a viable option for food production.

“There is also a stigma that farming is what older folks who are white do, and we want to show youth participants that farming is for everyone and they can do it too,” said Gebretsadik. “The lack of exposure of farming in schools, after-school programs, and in conversations in general is causing minimal to no youth engagement in farming. If adults are not engaged in or thinking about farming, young people are not either.”

“We need more programs to exist that engage youth in urban farming,” said Gebretsadik. “Many youth members that I’ve worked with have never stepped foot in a garden or have experience growing their own food. RBUFW hopes to show youth how to farm in creative and engaging ways so they are invested in food production as well as their own personal and professional development.”

Are you interested in RBUFW’s CSA program or farm stand? Youth members of RBUFW’s youth employment program will be growing food for the CSA program and farm stand this year.

The farm stand is donation based, and RBUFW accepts Fresh Bucks and can match SNAP dollars. Please visit their website to get current information about RBUFW’s farm stand schedule.

RBUFW also operates the Good Food Bags program on site, delivering over 700 bags of produce sourced from other small local farms to South Seattle. Read more about the Good Food Bags program here.

Are you or is someone you know interested in RBUFW’s youth employment program? Visit their website for more information.

Images courtesy of Suez Gebretsadik.



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