CitySoil Farm Takes Root in Renton

Many people have the environmental-conservation basics down: Reusable water bottles and a bin for compost in one’s kitchen are a must. So is buying organic foods whenever possible. But terms like socially sustainable food systems, urban farming and recycled water may not necessarily be in the average person’s ecological repertoire. CitySoil Farm is committed to changing this with an all-inclusive environmental education geared at both urban people and businesses.

Through community involvement, education and production of non-traditional land-use options, CitySoil Farm works to create innovative solutions to urban and industrial agricultural environmental concerns.

Located on 1.5 acres of farmland in Renton, CitySoil Farm was a product of King County’s Year of Urban Agriculture in 2010. King County officials were searching for a land use partner to the 90-acre South Wastewater Treatment Plant. Previously, the University of Washington had partnered with the county for the use of this land, operating both a garden and greenhouse. Using both settings for research, the University of Washington studied biosolids and the reclaiming of water in horticulture and agriculture.

In fall 2010, with UW’s research completed, King County’s Water Treatment Department’s public involvement team sought out the environmental studies program at Seattle University. At the time, the program had been looking for agricultural sites in the surrounding Seattle-area where students could explore urban agriculture. Seattle U accepted King County’s offer and the project officially began as The Seattle University Sustainable Urban Agriculture Project (it was later renamed CitySoil Farm).

By working alongside King County, CitySoil has been able to contribute to several education programs for the local community. Their surrounding community base consists of businesses, commuters and Renton neighbors, to which CitySoil provides environmental education on topics relating to garden and agricultural uses of recycled water and biosolids. CitySoil also supports university curriculum and student internships, and fosters a relationship with high school and technical programs in South Seattle, Tukwila, Skyway and Renton. When educating students at the high school level, CitySoil typically focuses on awareness about local waste streams and basic decomposition processes.

“We’re in a real period of exploration,” said junior Becca Clarke-Hargreaves, who has worked with CitySoil as an agricultural technician for nearly one year. “We’re reaching out to a lot of different communities in Renton and on campus. We’re really asking a lot of questions to the Seattle U community and the communities surrounding [us]… ‘What do you want to use the space for?’”

In the farm’s four years of operation, CitySoil has helped address and repair the neglected soil’s ecosystem. The farm has demonstrated both the effective and sustainable use of non-traditional agricultural land on an industrial site and the productive use of recycled resources from the wastewater treatment process. In addition to the education they’ve provided to students and their community, their efforts have produced a variety of fruits and vegetables, which have been donated to the Renton Food Bank.

CitySoil also works on obtaining the building and art materials they use secondhand.
“We invest time and energy into resource recycling not just for financial or economic considerations, but also so our demonstrations and workshops can be more easily replicated,” reads a statement from CitySoil’s website.

“I’d like to see more students out there doing service-learning projects,” said project manager Allison Mountjoy. “We have great education opportunities for students who are studying environmental education or just environmental studies in general, or sciences in general… we’re a great place to experiment. If somebody has an idea, if you come out and visit us and are inspired by something, we’ll help you figure out how to do it.”

From 3-6 pm on Oct. 9 , CitySoil is hosting their Community Potluck & Networking Celebration at the farm. Here students, faculty and staff may witness a demonstration on BioChar (used to increase agricultural productivity), make herbal sachets, view the aerosol artwork made by a local youth group and network with those also committed to urban farming and sustainability. Rideshares from campus are available upon request; interested students can contact Allison Mountjoy at [email protected]