SEATTLE TILTH is booming, forging new partnerships in the community and moving in fresh directions. Yet a sign “We’re temporarily out of worms,” is the first thing I see when I walk into Tilth’s office in the basement of the historic Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. This concern with worms reassures that Tilth is staying true to its roots, even while stepping up on issues like food justice and food security.
“Tilth was founded by people worried about the industrialization of agriculture, and their fears proved well-founded,” says Director Andrea Dwyer. She was hired five years ago to lead the 36-year-old organization concerned about its relevancy. “Seattle Tilth is a much-loved institution, but it needed to reach out,” says Dwyer.
Dwyer has an ambitious agenda. She’s focused on growing organic food in a safe and healthy environment, getting that good food into people’s hands, and teaching them how to cook, simply, seasonally and intuitively.
Seattle Tilth has grown during Dwyer’s tenure. The budget surged to $2.4 million last year. Tilth now has a staff of 50 educators, including experts in water conservation, soil building and food production from backyard-level to farm-scale.
“What’s new for us is that we’re working with a variety of populations to produce tons of food, and we’re distributing it at affordable prices to those who need it,” says Liza Burke, communications director.
Yet the basics of urban gardening, like raised beds, remain a priority. Tilth’s “Just Garden” program built over 100 raised-bed vegetable plots last year for low-income homeowners and communities. Their most popular classes? Food preservation, organic gardening, raising chickens, bees and dairy goats. Tilth also runs a farming program at its Rainier Beach Urban Farm for African immigrants. The Seattle Youth Garden Works program helps at-risk and homeless teenagers learn to grow and market food.
“We work at the intersection of food and the environment,” explains Dwyer. She points to the farm incubator program that serves immigrants, refugees and people with limited resources. It provides subsidized access to land and equipment, as well as business training and support to help people not only grow food but learn how to distribute it. The eight-acre Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands may be the most exciting venture. Built on city land and run by Tilth, it aims to become Seattle’s largest urban educational farm. Tilth also runs programs at Bradner Gardens Park in the Mount Baker neighborhood, Pickering Garden in Issaquah, and Seattle Tilth Farm Works in Auburn.
Tilth’s innovative programs are impressive. Parents can pick up a “Good Food Bag” of fresh produce when they collect their children from Tiny Tots child care in the Rainier Valley. After-school cooking clubs for teenagers are popular, as are programs to engage kids from toddlers on up in growing and eating fresh, healthy food. Tilth sponsors community dinners at a number of locations. All this works because Tilth has formed partnerships with the Seattle Parks Department, Puget Consumer’s Co-op and public schools, including the University of Washington.
Tilth boasts a dream demographic of young, eager, engaged staff and volunteers. Want to join their efforts? Possibilities abound: You can volunteer at any of Tilth’s seven sites, take a class, donate money, attend a community dinner, buy organic food starts at a plant sale, sign up for a CSA or help sell produce at your local Farmer’s Market. See seattletilth.org.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Reach her at email@example.com.