Avant Gardening

Bellingham Food Not Lawns

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I first became aware of Bellingham Food Not Lawns in mid-April, when I glanced across the street and spied a few hardy individuals digging up my my neighbor Gabe’s front yard.

Since anything out of the norm seems interesting when sheltering in place, I spent more time than usual pondering what was going on. Why were the shovel-wielding workers replacing the lawn with garden beds—and for what reason were branches, twigs, dried leaves and upturned grass being layered at the bottom of them? Also: Who in the heck were these people?

Not long after, I found out the latest iteration of Bellingham Food Not Lawns was behind the agrarian action, and those who’d toiled the soil in the rain that day were volunteers interested in the idea of building community resilience via mutual aid.

“While we can’t fix our entire country and all its interdependent systems, we can work locally and help ourselves and our neighbors adapt to forthcoming change by supporting each other,” project leader Meg Duke explains. “If the grocery stores were empty and the food supply stopped, what good would my garden do me if everyone else in the neighborhood decided to take food from it? Mutual aid understands that your problems aren’t just yours. Locally, we can create solutions that address the needs of each neighbor in our community, and by doing so build a network of trust and resilience.”

Duke says for the past year she and her housemates—some of whom help run the Alternative Library—had been pondering offering free labor to motivate folks to grow some of their own food, but it took the pandemic for the idea to become action. With a number of friends out of work and eager to help, it wasn’t long before the York neighborhood had been pasted with posters advertising free garden consultation and construction, and also calling out for additional volunteers to assist in turning underutilized lawn spaces into productive edible gardens.

So far, Duke reports, 10 yards have been transformed into gardens, made possible by 15 work parties (some yards take multiple days), coordinated by 14 consultations. From smaller jobs like Gabe’s—which featured hugelkultur-style garden beds that include layers of wood debris and other compostable plant materials to improve soil fertility—to an entire front yard in the Sunnyland neighborhood that was transformed into raised beds, BFNL is keeping busy.

“Folks are super-jazzed about growing food, have a lot of free time due to the virus, and have no/little/some idea of where to start but want to brainstorm with someone,” Duke says of the reasons people give them for wanting horticultural help. “By hearing their vision for their yard and by checking their household’s capacity, we can tailor a garden that will suit them and their situation. Plus, we can reduce a week’s worth of work into a day.”

The crews involved in the “avant gardening” use as many materials as possible that are already on site (yard waste, woody debris, pallets, etc.) or advise homeowners and renters where they can find, collect or buy what else they need, so by the time the project begins there’s usually a vision for how it will end. Social distancing is enforced, volunteers are encouraged to take the space and breaks they need, and although they share the tools they bring to get the job done, they all wear work gloves for safety.

As queries continue to come in, Duke says they’d love to involve more volunteers for work parties, and are also hoping to grow the project into decentralized, neighborhood-based teams that are able to build beds for those who live nearby.

Although they won’t be around to enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of their labor, Duke says each of the 20-plus volunteers who’ve gotten involved thus far aren’t in it for free lettuce.

“Some love giving to and creating their community, some love manual labor, some love learning about building different types of beds, and some love socializing with new folks who are also down to manifest growth,” she says. “We’re all getting a more resilient, cooperative community.”

Approximately six weeks after their first project at my neighbor’s place, his beds are filling in nicely with salad greens, tomatoes and a variety of other vegetables. Some crops are ready to harvest, but others are waiting for the summer heat to come into their own.

When asked what she hopes others who get involved with Bellingham Food Not Lawns take away from the experience, Duke says a fat harvest.

“And perhaps, if they have extra, they can share with their neighbors or donate to the Food Bank and pass along the spirit of mutual aid to their communities.”

Get more details about arranging a consultation and getting involved building garden beds for neighbors at


[Sat., May 30]

ANACORTES MARKET: The Anacortes Farmers Market is open from 9am-2pm at the Depot Arts Center, 611 R Ave. Their rules include following and obeying all signs, markers, barriers and instructions from market staff or volunteers. For now they’re only selling “food and flowers,” but those who want to support the market’s artists and crafters can purchase their products online, then pick them up today at the market’s information booth.
For more info:

MOUNT VERNON MARKET: The Mount Vernon Farmers Market takes place from 9am-2pm Saturdays through Oct. 20 at Riverwalk Park, 501 Main St. Only 25 customers are allowed in at a time to peruse the goods.
For more info:

CONCRETE MARKET: The Concrete Saturday Market takes place from 10am-1pm at the Concrete Community Center, 45821 Railroad St. Posted signage will direct shoppers to follow safety guidelines, and, for now, it’s a drive-in, farmers-only market.
For more info:

BELLINGHAM MARKET: Attend the Bellingham Farmers Market from 10am-2pm Saturdays at the Depot Market Square, 1100 Railroad Ave. At the modified market, social distancing is strongly enforced, patrons are not allowed to touch the food, and only 20 vendors are allowed on site to sell farm produce and grocery staples such as bread, meat and cheese. Entertainment, music and eating areas have been suspended until further notice, and masks are encouraged. Please stay home if you are sick, and be prepared with small bills to offer exact change to vendors when possible.
For more info:

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