Freeway Farming

Welcome to an urban oasis

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Although the York Farm is quickly becoming an urban oasis full of many green goodies that promise to bear all manner of foodstuffs, some of the trees that abut the garden aren’t exactly real. That’s because they’re etched into the tall concrete barrier that separates the growing space from the busy I-5 corridor.

Mary Loquvam and Byron Bagwell, the York neighborhood residents who are primarily responsible for turning a fallow stretch of land into a place where people can meet, greet and volunteer time to growing crops, say they’ve spent enough time at the farm that they don’t really notice the noise from the freeway anymore. And as for those “fake” trees? Well, they’re quickly being overtaken by a variety of plants that are actually alive.

On a recent Thursday morning, Loquvam and Bagwell were on hand to talk about the farm, which is in its second year of stewarding land donated by Washington’s Department of Transportation in order to grow food for the historic neighborhood—and prove to others that it’s a doable endeavor.

“We make a distinction between this and community gardens,” Loquvam says. “This is a working farm. We’re focusing on three storage crops—potatoes, beans and winter squash—with the idea that people can come here and get food to store for the winter.”

While the particulars of the first big harvest are still being worked out—volunteers will have access to the crops, but Bagwell and Loquvam also want to make extras available to York neighborhood residents and the Bellingham Food Bank—those who want to learn more about what it takes to keep an urban farm going are invited to a June 22 Solstice Celebration and Fundraiser.

While the main focus of the event will be on showing off the space via tours and demonstrations, Bagwell—who lives next door to the York Farm—wants people who show up to know that what they’re doing doesn’t have to be an isolated incident.

“This is about more than growing food,” Bagwell says. “This is a model for what can be done with empty spaces—while also cutting the true cost of food by growing your own produce and using less. It also adds to the beauty of the neighborhood.”

The duo also stresses that this has not been a two-person job. In addition to the many hundreds of hours they’ve each given to the cause, dozens of volunteers have donated labor, and interns Mary Smith and Lester Weber—who will be honored at a short ceremony at the solstice shindig—have shown true commitment when it comes to both digging in and learning more about keeping the farm going. And the list of community members and nonprofits that have donated either plants or building materials is growing by the day.

When asked if they see the farm being a longtime addition to the York neighborhood, both Loquvam and Bagwell are quick to say that, through careful planning and a desire to show that urban farms can help feed the communities in which they’re located, they want the space to be used for generations to come.

“We like to tell people in the neighborhood that ‘We’re building an orchard for your kids,’” Loquvam says.

Although neither profess to be master gardeners, Loquvam says with her organizing experience and Bagwell’s building know-how, they’ve made it possible to turn their urban farm dream into a reality.

“You don’t need expertise to get things done,” Loquvam says. “You just have to have vision,” Bagwell adds. With that, they smile, bump knuckles in solidarity, and get back to work.

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