by Ashley Rumble, CAGJ Intern
Each month Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ) organizes “teach-outs”. Modeled after the “Teach-ins” of the sixties. Teach-outs aim to teach people about the sorts of things that may not necessarily be mainstream knowledge. The teach-outs are a program put on by the Food Justice Project.
On Sunday, October 24, after a crisp, clear, sunny fall, we awoke to one of our first downpours of the season. A great Seattle day for gardening! After donning my rainboots and gathering my gloves I hopped on the 48 Bus to 22nd and Union Street—the site of an Alleycat Acres urban farm. Half expecting people not to show, I was happily surprised to be met by a smiling crowd that only continued to grow as we got going.
This month we visited Alleycat Acres, which is a self-proclaimed urban farming collective. Alleycat Acres is built upon the recognition of the gap in our current food system—a gap that separates and detaches the consumer from the production process. Since the time when people began moving to the city, the farm was forgotten in the rural areas. Consequently, we have lost control over how our food is produced and where it comes from. Alleycat Acres seeks to grant food sovereignty back to the communities where the gardens are located, to empower them to repossess control over what they eat and to get first-hand experience of the land around them.
The rain had temporarily subsided and we huddled in a small circle in the middle of the property trying to stay warm just long enough for brief introductions. Scott, one of the founders and organizers of Alleycat Acres, was eager to get us working for fear the rain would soon return. Four people volunteered to paint the new shed, equipped with water catchment and solar panel, a bright, characteristically farm-barn-red; eight or so people hopped into trucks to shovel wood chips from near-by; and about ten people grabbed buckets and began weeding and thinning the plots. Soon the group was buzzing with work and warmth.
Since its inception just this past April, Alleycat Acres has already founded two plots! The plots are privately owned properties that have been neglected and are highly visible within the given community. Beyond achieving the primary goal of providing people with locally grown produce, Alleycat Acres also serves to uplift the communities they work in. By renovating an old run-down block, the surrounding community looks better. When people see others contributing to their community, they begin to care about their community themselves. Alleycat Acres views food as a critical medium through which relationships can be formed upon. Ideally, the urban farms set up by Alleycat Acres will be adopted by the greater community. People living near the plots will volunteer their time and resources to work the land in exchange for fresh produce and a greater sense of community.
As the afternoon progressed, people continued to come and go, much like the rain. At about 2 o’clock the entire group of about twenty people were working together to distribute the newly gathered wood chips evenly across the entire property. As the rain poured down the buckets of chips continued to get filled and passed. On this very afternoon, Alleycat Acres was achieving its goals—people from all over Seattle (Bainbridge, University District, right down the street), young and old (a couple youngsters, a handful of college students, and some parents) had come together to work for a greater good.
As the day wound down, and we once again gathered in our circle, the sun, for the first time that day, began to peek out and smile down on us. We had all worked hard and the farm looked great. As a part of out reflection we talked a little about the potential of urban, community farms in preventing crime. We also talked about the challenges of relying on private land-owners to let their land for free. In response we decided that an appropriate way to give back to Alleycat Acres was to write letters thanking their land-owner and letting him know how much the community appreciates the space. To close, we all went around the circle and said one thing that stuck out in our minds about the experience on Alleycat Acres and one person’s response was particularly resonant. She informed us about how she was here on her friend’s accord, but that she was so overwhelmed by how truly dedicated and passionate each of us were about food and community. Her comment I thought was particularly inspiring in light of what Scott had said to me earlier in the day, “that if we all just do a little bit, then the job gets done”. A group of people had gathered on a rainy day to garden, but we left with so much more than dirty hands and a bit of arugula, we had a gained a better understanding of how food can forge community.