Urban Farms and Community Gardening: Growing Our Community

Food is one of the few things in life that brings everyone together. Regardless of your race, gender, religion, political beliefs, or any number of things that may divide us, we all need to eat. For the most part, we rely on farmers, herders and fishermen in rural areas far from our homes to provide us with this necessity.

But there are other options. Growing food closer to home is a growing trend across the country, and Whatcom County is no exception. Just walk around a neighborhood in Bellingham and it won’t take long to find a lawn that has been converted into a garden or even an urban farm. This move towards growing your own food or buying it from neighbors has led to creative efforts that provide fresh food in unconventional ways.

Strawberries are fun to grow and kids love them. Photo credit: Alex Smith

One way to get food outside of traditional channels is to grow it in a community garden. Bellingham has a dozen community gardens where you can rent a plot and grow food for yourself. From the Happy Valley Community Garden with its 97 plots to the Lakeway Garden with 64, you can find space in the city to suit your needs. Further information on community gardens operated by the City of Bellingham can be found on the City of Bellingham Community Gardens website.

If you live outside of Bellingham there are still plenty of options for gardening. The Washington State University Extension of Whatcom County has a list of community gardens throughout the county. There are places to grow food ranging from Birch Bay and Blaine to Everson and Sumas. A list of community gardens is available online at the WSU Whatcom County Extension website. Contact information is listed along with a brief description of the site and what they have to offer.

The Northwest Youth Services We Grow Garden is located on the Intercity Trail across from Bellingham Food Bank. Photo credit: Alex Smith

If you have your own plot, or even if you’re renting, you’ll want to check out the garden project through the Bellingham Food Bank. This innovative project allows people to grow their own food at home. The two-year program offers guidance to residents with limited income on how to grow their own food. Whatcom County residents can learn from Bellingham Food Bank staff, as well as others who have gone through the program, about the best ways to grow nutritious food for themselves and their families.

Garlic is an excellent plant to grow and harvest. Photo credit: Alex Smith

Whatcom County is also home to Western Washington University, and they offer a slightly different approach to community gardening. The Outback Farm, located at Fairhaven College, offers a unique learning opportunity. Students can gain hands-on experience through work-based study programs that teach the basics of agriculture. Faculty, staff, and even community members can deal with storylines in an educational setting. “It’s great to see faculty members and their children in the same space as the students,” says Kamea Black, food systems advocate and former Outback coordinator. “Everyone is learning and we are training new generations of people interested in food culture.”

You can find the York Farm tucked up against the freeway on James Street, just north of York. Photo credit: Alex Smith

If you’re just looking to support more urban agriculture, another option is York Farm. Situated on a quarter-acre of land in the York neighborhood of Bellingham, this farm produces food for local food banks while providing opportunities for residents seeking employment. They offer three-month internships for people who have been recently incarcerated, have a disability, or have other factors that could be a barrier to getting a job. These internships aim to provide valuable paid work experience so that people can find long-term employment in the community. Meanwhile, the food produced is used to feed the people who need it most.

A final example of an organization that grows food to build community is Northwest Youth Services. Through their We Grow Garden, at-risk and homeless youth learn to grow food that they can then eat themselves or sell to customers at an on-site produce stand. Program participants not only learn how to grow food and gain valuable work experience, but they also gain access to fresh vegetables they might not otherwise be able to afford.

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