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What do you get when you take a vacant lot that has been the neighborhood eyesore for years and turn it into a beautiful place that brings people together, increases food security and strengthens a community? You get a farm.
Now in its third year, Alleycat Acres is an all-volunteer, grassroots urban farming collective that transforms underutilized urban spaces into a network of sustainable urban farms.
Striving to put “culture” back into agriculture, the Alleycat Acres farms are open to anyone who is interested in growing food. The farms are able to flourish only because of the collective work of its members and communities surrounding the farms.
“The harvests are shared with all members and within the immediate community of our farms,” said Leah AdangFry, site manager of the collective’s newest location on Martin Luther King Blvd. and Cherry St. “Any excess produce is delivered via bicycle to neighboring food banks.”
The organization started its first farm in Beacon Hill, on a plot of land donated by a retired school teacher, and broke ground for a second farm in the Central District that same summer.
In its first two years, more than 400 individuals contributed to grow more than 2,000 pounds of food on those two farms. The food not only fed everyone who had helped grow it and the neighborhoods surrounding the farms, it also supported local food banks.
“We call it a farm not a garden because of the importance of it being functional space used for production. It’s also not a P-Patch; there are no individual plots. Everything is community,” said AdangFry.
AdangFry, a former Seattle Tilth member, became part of Alleycat Acres when the organization acquired its third and newest location on MLK and Cherry, just blocks from her house.
“All neighbors received a flyer about an upcoming design meeting for this vacant lot. I went to the meeting and got connected with Alleycat Acres,” she said. “All of our properties are privately owned and [the MLK lot] had been sitting vacant for 10 years,” said AdangFry. “The owner was really excited about doing something community oriented, and gave us a year-by-year lease.”
AdangFry and volunteers spent most of last year designing and implementing.
“We started from scratch. It was nothing but a grass and blackberry field. We laid down mulch and build beds and experimenting with different soils,” AdangFry said. “We did grow quite a bit of food but more in an experimental capacity. The MLK farm should double if not triple its production this year.”
The farms grow mainly vegetables but also some fruit. A small orchard was planted on the MLK farm – their largest site yet – which also houses a chicken coup and beehives.
Work parties on weekends and summer evenings keep the farm healthy and productive.
“We’re always looking for volunteers and welcome projects and experiments – from grain crops to multi-fruit trees,” said AdangFry. “We really want to emphasize that these are public spaces – spaces for people to be in and create community.”
“It’s a lot, too, about displaying what’s possible in a city and showcase that sustainable urban farming is possible,” AdangFry said.
Alleycat Acres welcomes schools and companies for field trips and are looking to host more workshops and events.
“Our community base could be more diverse and we’re working on that,” said AdangFry.
In addition to being community driven and socially charged, Alleycat Acres is also pedal powered.
“We do have a strong bicycling component,” said AdangFry. “We fund our farming with biking, transport food by bikes and many of us don’t even have cars.”
Bikes are a big part of Alleycat Acres’ mission of greening the city, and they use bikes in as many areas of our work as possible, utilizing cargo trailers to transport materials and produce.
Additionally, each year Alleycat Acres hosts a fully-supported 40-to-70-mile bike ride, the Streets + Beets event, which serves as the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year and covers the costs associated with all areas of keeping the farm running.
“Biking is great because it makes you realize you’re capable of far more than you think you are,” said AdangFry, who completed her first Group Health Seattle to Portland ride last year.
This year’s ride will take place on Saturday, May 4. The exact route is yet to be determined but will be designed in such a way that it can be accomplished by riders from any experience level, from beginning cyclists to hardcore commuters and racers.
Learn more about Alleycat Acres at http://alleycat-acres.org/