A goal of the Snohomish Conservation District (CD) Lawns to Lettuce urban agriculture program is to create community food systems. This project allowed the district to pursue this goal and make some lasting positive impacts, not only within the food desert area of Monroe, but across Snohomish County. Partnership building was a key element to the success and will enable the Lawns to Lettuce program to provide greater impact in the coming years.
Through a main partner, Housing Hope, the district worked with diverse landowners to encourage and instruct them how to grow food in their own front yards. Retrofits were performed to six single family homes, transforming conventional grass lawns to edible gardens.
Housing Hope’s two group facilities were also provided with soil amendments, plant seedlings and weekly support to increase engagement. In conjunction with the retrofits, the district hosted a community event to give away seedlings grown by the Monroe High School FFA students and to teach people about the techniques used, including sheet mulching, raised bed gardening, and rain water catchment.
The district has developed strong partnerships with food banks throughout Snohomish County, getting fresh, nutritious food from a variety of sources, including urban gardeners through the “Plant a Row” program. This program encourages people to plant a row of produce for their local food bank. Community members who joined the campaign received free seeds and were supported throughout the season with Lawns to Lettuce resources. A new food bank mapping tool allows people to see which food bank is closest to them and what days and times they accept produce donations. That makes it very easy for people to get directions to the nearest food bank using their mobile devices.
Food banks throughout the county were supported through small and large-scale gleaning efforts. Produce was gleaned from farmers markets, homeowners’ apple trees and gardens and commercial farms. These efforts generated around 20,000 pounds of produce, utilizing approximately 390 hours of volunteer labor.
Throughout the duration of this project, the district has grown a very active online community with over 850 users. A new online Facebook group was created along with monthly newsletters containing gardening tips and tricks, volunteer opportunities, calls to action and online resources.
This growing Lawns to Lettuce community is also beginning to reflect the diverse demographic within Snohomish County. Through the project, the district connected with a new Latina leader and director of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce. After holding one Spanish-speaking class together on rain catchment this fall, the district will further engage underserved groups into the future.
Diverse partnerships were key to this project; they will continue to be the focus of the Lawns to Lettuce program. These partnerships ensure fresh nutritious food will become more readily available to citizens of Snohomish County, and especially those who live in food deserts.
This program helped build a strong base of volunteers who will continue the gleaning efforts. Their passion and dedication will help gather more partners to join the fight against hunger. The district has a large network of farmers who are becoming increasingly interested in being involved with the program.
The Plant a Row will continue next growing season to provide food banks with high quality produce. Lawns to Lettuce is quickly becoming a bridge between the urban and rural divide.
The district’s active online community continues to grow through social media outlets and the monthly newsletter.
Diversity will continue to be a focus as the district looks for innovative ways to serve the broad urban demographic. This project demonstrated the ‘proof of concept’ to the district board of directors, jurisdictions and elected officials, and it provided the foundational support needed for urban agriculture efforts into the future.