New Roots Seattle: mulching its way to just, sustainable communities19 Mar 2021, by Harvest Blog, International Rescue Committee, Uncategorized in
Harvest VISTA Khue Tran provides program support for the International Rescue Committee New Roots Program in SeaTac, WA and surrounding communities. The New Roots Program, a community garden and food access program within the International Rescue Committee, helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and leadership development. New Roots operates 4 garden sites, 189 individual plots and 1 market garden.
The New Roots garden sites have become important community spaces for refugee & immigrant communities in Tukwila and Kent, thanks to the welcoming and inclusive environment New Roots gardeners, staff, and partners have worked hard to instill. New Roots gardens promote land access for refugee and immigrant communities, with 189 families currently tending their own plots. New Roots gardens are a safe, healing space to reconnect with the Earth, where people can freely express their cultures, meet others within and outside of their cultural community, and share knowledge and stories while growing familiar organic foods. For some, their garden plot has become a means of nourishing their entire extended and multi-generational families, which adds up to hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands, in grocery savings annually. For others, it is simply an outdoor escape from their apartment dwelling that they can call their own.
In 2018, New Roots began a new program at Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila to help skilled gardeners interested in further increasing their yields and selling produce to the broader community. The Micro-Producer Academy (MPA) focuses on Pacific Northwest-specific growing conditions and challenges, pest management, crop planning, starting a farm business, and market opportunities. Graduates of the program gain access to additional land, giving them the capacity to grow for market and earn supplemental income.
To support the growth of the MPA program and the success of the gardeners, New Roots sought more land for market production. The first expansion, now known as Namuna Garden, is a converted, large backyard donated by neighbors of Namaste Community Garden, who were inspired by the gardeners’ skill and passion. Namuna Garden is looked after by the MPA graduates and flourishes during the growing season.
The most recent expansion is going into its pilot year, resulting in an additional one-and-a-half acres of land for local growers. The land is owned by King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP) and located in Kent Valley. This space will be farmed by interested MPA graduates with at least one year of market experience who are looking to grow their farm business.
New Roots is one of six South King County food access organizations that founded a collaborative project called the Food Access and Aggregation Community Team (FAACT). Together, FAACT secured this fertile public land, rent-free, to further each of their respective, but aligned, missions. The collective goal is to increase culturally-relevant organic food access to the South King County communities through regenerative farm practices and provide land access for immigrant, refugee, low-income, and previously-incarcerated aspiring farmers who experience high barriers to land ownership.
In total, the collaborative has access to 5 acres in their pilot year (2021), with the potential to expand to 20 acres over the next few years, making room for more organizations and aspiring farmers to join the project. This space at Horseneck Farm will use a communal approach to farming. Farmers coming from the different organizations will manage their own plots, while sharing the use and management of irrigation, tools and equipment, and other infrastructure, such as storage sheds and wash/packs. FAACT envisions this space becoming a community hub — a place where community members can interact with their growers through harvest festivals, community events and workshops, environmental educational experiences, and a farm stand, too. FAACT aims to empower the farmers to feel ownership and pride over this shared land and acknowledges that in order to do that, the farmers will need to be included in decision-making processes. With a Community Advisory Group and a Farmer Leadership Group, the project’s direction will be informed by the participants and community.
The context in which this unique partnership between FAACT and DNRP came about is important to highlight. Through a nationwide reckoning on social injustices and inequities built into our systems from the ground up, many public entities are now looking to organizations with strong ties to the community for tangible solutions. This partnership prioritizes equitable community access to land and environmental restoration and protection. FAACT hopes to see this model replicated on other publicly owned sites with more community organizations.
Land ownership in the U.S. is a subject deep rooted in genocide, racism, and colonialism. Public land entities, especially, can address both equitable redistribution of land and environmental stewardship through more regenerative farming programs led by and for the people who experience the highest barriers and marginalization. While the FAACT project does not provide land ownership highly sought after by the farmers in their programs, the project does bridge the gap and help farmers gain more independence and experience. Furthermore, farmers will gain access to more land each successive year if they wish to keep expanding, unlike the farm incubator models that limit farmer participation to one to two years.
FAACT Founding Members are South King County Food Coalition, IRC New Roots, Living Well Kent, Shared Soil, Food Innovation Network and Highline College’s Sustainable Agricutlure Program. Harvest VISTA Khue serves on the Fundraising and Promotions Working Group that is working on building up its presence in the community, including ways to get involved for volunteers, future organizations and farmers, and supporters. To stay informed about this project, check www.skcfc.org/faact regularly.