New Urban Agriculture program starts to bloom

By Joey Gomez - Staff Reporter

Highline's new Urban Agriculture program is enabling students of multiple disciplines to help resolve the lack of quality fresh food in areas of south King County.

Food deserts occur in urban areas where food becomes unaffordable and there is a scarcity of quality fresh food.

In spring 2014, the college's campus garden was created. One of its greatest boosts has been an $80,000 grant from the King Conservation District Regional Food Systems program to help individuals of food desert communities to create a crop plan that is appropriate for the northwest region.

The laboratory for eventually flooding the community with fresh veggies is Highline's campus garden, a modest 60 by 70-foot area, near buildings 21 and 22. Along with a green house near Building 6, there is also a newly planted orchard in the most westly part of campus, said Bobby Butler, Urban Agriculture program manager. The orchard consists of pear, apple and frost peach trees. More fruit trees are also anticipated.

"The crops in the garden live and die by the hands of the students," Butler said.

Activity in the garden is liveliest during the Spring and Summer quarters, although it is continuously used year round, he said.

"Each crop has a different life cycle," Butler said.

Seasonal changes greatly influence what is being grown and har vested in the garden. This last summer the students grew kale, strawberries, raspberries, garlic, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, and lots more, Butler said.

"We make it [produce] available to the students and whatever the students don't take, we bring to the Des Moines Area Food Bank," he said.

The students can consume the produce for their own dietary needs, but can also find a way to earn money with their business skills.

The Urban Agriculture program is also negotiating a collaboration with community garden enthusiasts working through the Daisy Sonju Community Garden and Pea Patch operated at Des Moines' Sonju Park.

In general, the program is focused on providing resources to refugees, immigrants, and under-resourced individuals. The collaboration with Daisy Sonju could give the program the potential of more garden space, but the details are still to be determined.

"Every quarter we seek to improve the program. This year we will be offering a 46-credit certificate in the program as well as the original 19-credit certificate," Butler said.

Continual improvement of the program is evident, but even with the efforts to better serve the south King County area, various age demographics have been a challenge. It can be difficult for breadwinners to find time to take the classes.

"I would like to find a time for the classes that work well with all members of the community," Butler said.

In Winter Quarter, Butler is offering two classes about sustainability. Food as Medicine (SUST 150) will be held on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. and Indoor Growing (SUST 152) will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 9:50 a.m.

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