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So Long Seattle

After about a month and a half of working with the Seattle Urban Farm Company, I have to say I’ve fallen in love with Seattle, from its inhabitants to its quaint neighborhoods to its dazzling mountain landscapes… but the thing I learned that I would most love to experience is the year-round fresh local produce. New York of course lacks this in its rotation of the four seasons and harsh winters. These urban farmers can enjoy a blossoming garden all year, something I hadn’t been able to imagine besides down in the tropic regions that I got to experience last winter/spring while studying abroad. Instead of the heat and humidity of down there though, Seattle enjoys some warm days, some borderline hot days, and some periods of crisp, moist weather to keep things interesting (some call it gloomy but I can’t say that until I’ve experienced it).

Enough about the weather though. I’ve gained a lot through the days working in the sun and rain with Brad, Colin, and Hilary. My last day was spent with all three of them doing the Mercer Island run, which I can imagine being cumbersome for just one or two people as there are six gardens, most of which require quite a bit of training. It was a warm day, up in the 80s I would guess, and we hustled through all of them. Hilary has been working tirelessly on the photos for the book that Brad and Colin just finished another revision stage for. It will be all about the ins and outs of urban farming and should be ready sometime around the end of this year. She took a bunch of pictures while we harvested, pulled, weeded, planted, munched on, fought with, tousled, teased, and fell into rhythm with each garden. It’s becomes kind of meditative, kind of therapeutic when we work together, weeding especially. And it feels healthy just being surrounded by growth and urging on productivity with our hands and some tools, sweating and using muscles that lie dormant otherwise. I enjoyed going from working in a fast paced restaurant environment to doing maintenance runs with the company, discussing plans and memories, observing and working together. It was incredible to observe the differences in the attitudes and pace just from the difference in context, and it helped to reaffirm why I want to go into agriculture as opposed to corporate business.

I think I achieved most of my goals, from plant identification to learning about the organization of the company. There is a lot of planning that goes into it. I’m glad that I got to attend one of their staff meetings and a consultation to see exactly what those would entail. Having as many clients as they do requires a lot of record-keeping, from hours to produce, and it is improving all the time as they gain more experience. Future plans include having a storefront to sell seedlings and such, adding a whole other aspect to the company. I can’t wait to go back whenever I get a chance and see how they progress.

But onto the next adventure I suppose, with more skills and tools to bring to whatever other situation I am put into. Thank you so so SO much Seattle Urban Farm Company and all the great people I met there! I’ll be back to visit soon I hope….

Keep on growing, Seattle!

When Bad Things Happen to Good Plants

The other day, in the on-and-off pouring rain, I learned how very essential it is to stay on top of maintenance. Clients have the option of taking on the responsibility of maintaining their urban farms themselves for the most part with only monthly maintenance or however often they prefer. The time saved by not coming each week saves money but if the garden is not looked after by someone, issues can and do arise, costing more time and energy later on. Pest problems get out of control, weeds get out of control, produce goes past its prime and time, effort, and plants put into it go to waste. Here are just a couple of the things we saw that can be avoided just by spending a healthy serving of time each week in the garden:

Bolted LettuceThis is an unharvested, bolted lettuce plant, meaning that it has developed one large stem and is growing up instead of producing tasty salad green leaves. After they bolt, they turn bitter and much less appetizing so they should be harvested before this point. Sometimes it can’t be helped that they bolt before we can harvest them when there is too much lettuce at one time- hence the need for successional plantings.


Peas are also all ready to harvest and some that we saw had turned inedible from being left on the vine too long. These become bulky and leathery, also making them unfortunately bitter.

We ended up spending over double the time we would normally spend in a garden and had to pull and replant a lot of things which was unfortunate. Gardening is good exercise for the body, rest for the mind, and nourishment for the soul. I feel lucky to get to spend that much time in a garden (even in the rain) and I don’t even get to enjoy all the goodies that come from it with a little encouragement and support. Some gardens we visit are unable to produce from lack of light or unfitting soil so some clients who check multiple times during the week cannot enjoy everything that they wanted… and then there are some that have flourishing gardens but choose not to look after them. There is an interesting range of involvement. When we work for the garden, it works for us; when we don’t, we lose out on perfectly good treats… bummer. Let’s not let bad things happen to good plants!

Life on the Roof- Visiting the Bastille’s rooftop garden

Seattle Urban Farm Company installed a productive green roof on the roof of the Bastille Restaurant in the beautiful Ballard district in 2009 and it has gotten tons of media and public attention since its creation. They created an organized array of custom-made raised beds and kiddie-pool-sized containers with all kinds of complex little systems, including drip irrigation, ground heating, and season-fitting shading. This of course took a lot of planning and detailed work, including selecting and finding specific varieties at their request, but the rewards are bountiful and can be reaped year after year, with many added benefits. The company continues to maintain the garden and I contributed a lot of lettuce seeding as it needs to be replenished much more often than a household’s stock. Lucky for me, I got to visit the garden while some more media attention was being attained: a man was taking a series of photographs that would be featured in a video he was making on sustainable efforts going on throughout the country. I hope I can find the finished product. One can arrange to take a tour of this inspirational installation simply by contacting the SUFCo or the Bastille restaurant:

SUFCo Rooftop Gardens

The Bastille Restaurant

Five Reasons Why a Rooftop Garden is a Good Idea:
1. Insulation: Plants keep the planet temperate by absorbing the suns heat and serving as a blanket in cooler weather, and on a roof can do the same for the building. Sounds cozy to me. Added bonus: they can reduce costs of heating and air conditioning.
2. Rain catchment: Rooftop gardens snatch up all the precipitation they can get (which is why they would be so happy in Rain City). They allow the water cycle to flow naturally as they slowly release the water back into the atmosphere through condensation and evaporation while the soil serves as a natural filter.
3. Productive use of open space: While space is becoming more and more limited on this planet, the new direction we are taking for building is up. In the city especially, as discussed a little bit in the previous post, unused ground is hard to find. Building up + Container gardening = Rooftop container garden!
4. Positive attention-grabber: The restaurant came to the company looking for something marketable and innovative, and this certainly fulfilled that. They are now able to put salad on their menu with produce right from their roof. Local is in these days, and how much more local can you get than that?
5. Delicious veggies for the hungry bellies! No explanation needed for that one.

Putting the Seeds to Bed, an excerpt from week 1

Day three of the internship and I finally remembered to bring my camera and snap some photos to better explain things. When I arrived around 8am, my first duty was to seed several flats according to the seeding schedule, which is maintained to ensure that there is a sufficient number of plants to distribute to the gardens at the right times. Seeding is done every week as plants need to be replaced, replanted, or when the optimal time arises for new plants to start their growing season.

Here are the steps we took to seeding the lettuce. Quite tedious, but pretty simple. This efficient method is not something I would have known intuitively.


I’m not too good at piano, but sometimes small fingers can come in handy when handling seeds this tiny….

1.    Fill seed bed with moist soil: SUFCo uses germination mix, which is a blend of peat moss, perlite, and dolomite lime. Balanced fertilizer is also added along with some water before filling the trays, making a welcomingly nutritious and moist bed for the seeds to germinate in.

2.  Push another similar tray down on top of that one to push the soil down, making a cozy niche for the seed to lay in

3.  Place one of the teeny-tiny seeds in each cup, keeping track of which varieties are in which row using tags. By limiting the number of seeds in each, we limit competition for light and nutrients between them. If too many seeds grow close together, the plants get “leggy”, meaning they grow up instead of flourishing out as they should.

4.   Cover with a thick, fluffy layer of soil

5.   Press the fluff down to compact the soil to hold the seeds in place (it’s like tucking them into their little beds!)

6.  Brush excess off, careful not to remove the soil in the cup

7.   Water the bed. Usually after watering, the beds would go straight to the comfy greenhouse, but since it’s now above 50 degrees at night, we can leave them outside to germinate! Hooray for warm weather!


And so it begins. After two flats of that, we had 256 lettuces all set to grow. In a few weeks, these little fellers will be ready to move to their new urban farm homes to mature to their full, healthy, leafy potential, perhaps eventually ending up in a refreshing summer salad.


“The word “miracle” aptly describes a seed.”

–       Jack Kramer

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

–       Henry David Thoreau

IMG_5622Seedlings almost ready to be transplanted!

Digging up the juicy details of urban farming… week one.

I started a blog on my own that would be a place to both keep track of my internship and serve the company as another way to update clients and share information. This was my first post when I first started working with them in June. The blog can be found at

I’m currently a junior at Cornell, studying Agricultural Sciences, which has propelled me to embark on this blogging adventure to fill an internship requirement. I’m very excited to be spending my summer in the voluptuous city of Seattle, reading, drinking coffee, knitting, blogging, cooking, and gaining all kinds of urban agricultural enlightenment. My hope for this blog is for it to not only be an internship update provider, but also a cozy place to share insights, ideas, and excitement about urban farming and all that goes with it.

After visiting for three weeks, I found Seattle to be a place of immense passion, brewing tons of fresh ideas, and nearly bubbling over with proactivity. An agricultural enthusiast will never be bored in this city: with Pike Place Market as one of the main tourist attractions (I challenge you to name another city with a farmers market that attracts 10 million visitors each year and is open 7 days a week []), district farmers markets every weekend all year round, P-Patch community gardens scattered about, frequent work parties with organizations that adore volunteers, and tons of classes on a wide range of topics from planting to preserving, it’s difficult to miss out on the movement.

This all of course enticed me to buy another plane ticket about a week after returning home.

Volunteering during my visit helped me to network a bit and meet many enthusiastic community members. The one volunteer experience that helped me most was a trial day with the Seattle Urban Farm Company, a growing enterprise that builds and maintains edible landscapes in the backyards of Seattle residents. Throughout the season, the company grows whatever the clients’ hearts (or stomachs) desire about as close to home as you can get, making fresh produce literally a hop, skip, and maybe a jump away, depending on the size of the yard.

Backyard at "Moon Base"/SUFCo Headquarters

Backyard at “Moon Base”/SUFCo Headquarters

Flourishing crops to the left of the last picture Beds to the right of the last picture where flowers, garlic, onions, brassicas, squash, and more are flourishing

My trial day was spent maintaining some of these backyard farmyards with the lovely farmer Hilary, and some of the customers who wanted to take part. We also visited a rooftop garden on top of the Bastille restaurant in Ballard that the company installed and maintains as well. Now that I have returned, hungry for more urban ag action, I am interning with the Seattle Urban Farm Company for the rest of the summer. What better way to get to know the city and learn all the dirt on urban agriculture? Not to mention crop seasonality, business management and organization, social media, plant varieties, and much more….

So, here I am, starting a blog, ready to share a great summer with whoever cares to take part. The positive energy and excitement are aflowin’! Time to dig in.

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