Seattle Food Policy Mobile Workshop Recap

By Maya Dunne

Planners are increasingly aware of the connection of health and wellness to fresh food, and the capacity of food as a connecting framework. As a part of the American Planning Association (APA) national conference, I attended an inspiring tour of the City of Seattle’s food and farm projects.  The visit, attended by about 50 planners, was a unique chance to see what has been growing since the city approved its Food Action Plan (FAP) framework in 2013, including the key goals of Healthy Food for All; Grow Local; Strengthen the Local Economy; and Prevent Waste. With 64% of land zoned single family, the challenge to expand fresh food needed to rely on neighborhoods. The City Department of Neighborhoods has been busy leasing out municipal land for urban agricultural projects, providing water and small grants, and the city staff reviewed and revised ordinances that get in the way of small fresh food production.  They have given by-right permission for residents to farm their own residential land and sell produce with no permits required under a certain threshold.  The city is very experimental and is partnering with nonprofits and community groups to provide educational programs, produce food for local food banks, and empower low-income residents.  This has led to some significant outcomes in 2014 including:

  • 6,848 P-Patch community gardeners
  • P-Patch gardeners grew 40,000 pounds of fresh organic produce for Seattle food banks and meal programs
  • 3 new farm plots opened to urban farming entrepreneurs 

The City of Seattle is not new to urban farming.  For decades the P-Patch Program has encouraged the development of small community gardens throughout the city for individuals and groups—each being a unique expression. The program currently oversees 90 such gardens.  Sizes of individual garden plots vary from 40-400 square feet and new gardens are built by community volunteers.  Garden fees are $13 for each 100 square foot.  At one apartment, several families share a P-Patch rooftop garden. In some locations, gardeners can sell their produce at city-owned farm stands or through a produce delivery program.

The Rainier Beach Urban Farm is on the site of a former nursery and current wetlands. Today the project is adding 20 new farmers a year, and hosts hens, bee keeping, a few livestock, and also offers commercial gardening zones.  A special benefit for the economically disadvantaged community is a three-year farm training program for students, at the end of which they qualify for a job with Seattle Tilth. The kids program also has a nutritionist teaching about food in a spontaneous experiential way. 

In Beacon Hill, a neighborhood fund was matched with $22,000 from the city to develop 7 acres of public utility land into a permaculture farm. Beacon Food Forest is the city’s first food forest, which is a farm that mimics a forest ecosystem, substituting in edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Supported by the Department of Neighborhoods, the plot uses water paid for by levy funds, and hosts both paid and volunteer staff. The forest has thirty plots, with matching grants available for all types of community projects. One of the forest co-founders said, “I feel it allows neighbors to find common ground and break down barriers. I’ve met a lot of people here that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

Another exciting program is at Marra Farm and Market, a historic 8-acre farm in South Park with programs stewarded by a coalition of non-profits and community groups. Operated from 1900 to 1970 by the Marra family, the land is one of the last remaining original farmlands in the city. The site hosts 20 P-Patch gardens for personal and commercial use, educational programs for children, and a food bank garden that produces over 18,000 pounds of produce a year.  This farm is experimenting with providing rented plots for small commercial farmers, starting out in production of fresh produce.  

The author, Maya Dunne M.A., is an urban planner who works on urban agriculture programming and healthy communities programs such as the Green Planning Academy.  In her free time, she is a budding urban gardener, producing sweet peas, herbs, and tomatoes.  She can be found at

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