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The Northwest's tastiest climate solution

Posted by suzanne at Nov 21, 2012 11:00 AM |

It goes without saying that the Northwest is blessed with great soil and lush gardens. We also have a rich ecosystem of organizations and generous experts dedicated to sharing their knowledge on how to grow food locally, sustainably and equitably

The Northwest's tastiest climate solution

Elizabeth Willmott, New Energy Cities Project Manager

By Elizabeth Willmott and Andrew Storey

In a clever feature on Friday, November 16, Seattle Weekly asked local food author, blogger and forager Langdon Cook to “construct a menu based on what European settlers and Duwamish tribal members in our region might have brought to a shared table.” As the article points out, finding truly local food for Thanksgiving means diverging from the holiday’s traditional staples, many of which are native to New England—not the Northwest.  

Cook’s resulting menu sounds delicious: shellfish stew, root vegetable gratin, mushroom crostini and huckleberry pie. The super local-ness is also compelling in light of the Thanksgiving buzzkill we’re getting about climate change impacts to our food sources, especially in the Midwest and South (a.k.a. the Corn and Turkey Belts). If these areas continue to experience elevated spring and summer temperatures and increased drought, as scientists expect, we will definitely be wise to start looking even closer to home for our food supply.

This is not to say that the Northwest’s food production will be immune to climate change impacts; far from it. But easing our reliance on far-away sources of food production can help us to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and our insecure over-dependence on food from areas threatened by the worst climate change impacts.

For all of these reasons and more, this Thanksgiving we are grateful that the “grow local” movement continues to thrive like that kale your neighbor can’t seem to give away fast enough. A few examples of its success make us especially happy this holiday season.

First, it goes almost without saying that the movement has achieved unprecedented validation and official recognition in the past few years, through the political spotlight of First Lady Michelle Obama and the thought leadership of Michael Pollan, Anna Moore Lappe and others. In Milwaukee and now Chicago, our hero Will Allen is killing it (in the most thriving sense, of course) with his amazing organization, Growing Power, an urban farm operation that includes agriculture, aquaculture and education. Back at home, the City of Seattle made 2010 the Year of Urban Agriculture with an urban food bank farm, code revisions and other initiatives that now enable a host of beneficial food-producing activities, including raising of livestock within city limits.

Second and even more exciting to us is the growth of P-Patch programs in Seattle and across the country. We learned a little about these initiatives last summer, when we started to do research for a video we made about our friendly Picardo Patch in Northeast Seattle. Just two blocks from our house, Picardo is also the very first P-Patch in Seattle: the place where, we like to think, it all began.

Originally a family truck farm, Picardo began its new chapter as a community resource when an enterprising University of Washington student wanted to use some of the farm land to teach students about how to grow food. At that time, the back-to-the-land movement converged with the Boeing Bust, and the patch of land evolved from a teaching project into a support for Neighbors in Need, an early source of community food donations to Northwest Harvest. In 1973, Picardo Patch was officially designated as a community garden, and the City’s P-Patch program was born. (You may not have known that the “P” in P-Patch stands for Picardo!)

Now at 78 patches and over 44 acres across the city, Seattle’s P-Patch program is going gangbusters.  This remarkable total does not even begin to touch other awesome local programs like the Beacon Hill Food Forest, Rainier Beach Urban Farm, Seattle Youth Garden Works and Seattle Tilth Farm Works, to name just a few.

The Neighbors in Need tradition continues today. In 2011, Solid Ground found that Seattle’s P-Patches contributed almost 21,000 pounds of fresh produce to food banks in the city. Two of the bigger patches, Interbay and Picardo, grew the most by total pounds, but others like Hazel Heights, Evanston, Delrige and Haller Lake donated the most by pounds per acreage or pounds by gardener. However you slice it, there is very much a giving ethic among the community gardeners of Seattle.

The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), which will hold its annual conference in Seattle in August 2013, was founded in 1979 as a national network of P-Patches and is going stronger than ever. This map shows 650 of the community gardens around the country that have registered with ACGA—though the actual number of gardens is likely quite a bit higher, as gardeners don’t tend to be self-promoting folks.

 It goes without saying that the Northwest is blessed with great soil and lush gardens. We also have a rich ecosystem of organizations and generous experts dedicated to sharing their knowledge on how to grow food locally, sustainably and equitably. The multitude of working farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, Seattle Tilth, 21 Acres, SeaChar, and the plentiful informal networks of P-Patch gardeners around the region are a few highlights. Day after day, these farms and projects create great food, good jobs, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions—big wins all around.

So this holiday, join us in raising our glasses to what may very well be the healthiest, tastiest and most equitable climate solution to come out of the Northwest—our locally grown food— and the hard-working people who make it possible every season,

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