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Seattle University


Urban Agriculture

Written by Laura Paskin (College of Arts and Sciences) and Mike Thee
December 6, 2011

It may seem about the unlikeliest spot for a farm, but thanks to SU faculty and students a wastewater treatment site is being transformed into a sustainable source of food for the less fortunate.

Working with the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, the College of Arts and Sciences’ Environmental Studies Program is developing the farm site on the unused parcel of the wastewater treatment site in Renton. And here’s the kicker—the produce harvested at the farm goes to local food banks.

The Environmental Studies Program began partnering with King County in 2010 on what was then a demonstration project. Led by Michael Boyle, instructor in the Environmental Studies Program, the SU team is drawing on purified resources recovered from the wastewater treatment process—specifically biosolids compost and reclaimed water—and putting them to use for sustainable agriculture.  

From left to right: Environmental Studies instructor Michael Boyle; students Taylor McDowell , Madelyn Hamilton and Carey-deVictoria-Michel; program director Gordon Miller; and Casey Plank of the King County Wastewater Treatment Division and a graduate of SU’s Environmental Studies Program.

Last month Wells Fargo awarded $100,000 to the Environmental Studies Program. The grant will expand the project’s educational, environmental and community benefits.   

“Seattle University’s innovative urban agriculture project is an important opportunity for Wells Fargo to invest in a sustainable food system that benefits the environment while also providing nourishment to members of our community,” said Patrick Yalung, Wells Fargo’s Washington regional president. "We think this project has the potential to be a model for the urban agriculture movement. Our team members are also ready to get their hands dirty and volunteer at the farm. We are excited to be a part of this project.”

“The Renton project brings together students, faculty, county employees, volunteers from Wells Fargo, and community partners to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for local food programs,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean David Powers. “This program not only provides food for the community, but through its educational outreach component, it gives local school kids information about food, nutrition and healthy eating.”

Students from local Renton and South King County schools will work at the site, harvest produce, prepare a meal together, and take home food to share with their families. 

The project also fits very well with the university’s growing effort to incorporate sustainability into its academic programs, a key plank in the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, of which SU is a signatory. Carl Obermiller, professor of marketing in the Albers School of Business and Economics, is co-chair of the President’s Committee for Sustainability, which is charged with leading the implementation of the climate commitment. He said, “Congratulations to the Environmental Studies Program people. This sustainable agriculture project is a wonderful example of what we hope sustainability can be at SU. It is cross-disciplinary and involves both students and the community in both academics and service.  And, we can't get much closer to sustainability than sustenance.”

Professor Gordon Miller, Environmental Studies Program director, sees the project as having multiple benefits for SU and beyond.

“On a local level, it demonstrates the broad support for urban agriculture efforts in the Seattle area. On a national level, it’s one tiny step in the direction of envisioning and preparing for our agricultural future at a time when American farmland is rapidly disappearing and the majority of American farmers are nearing retirement.  And on a global level, it highlights the fact that, in our efforts to forge more sustainable relations between humankind and the Earth, one of the most important considerations is our daily behavior in relation to food. We are, of course, extremely grateful to Wells Fargo for supporting us so generously and for partnering with us in the multifaceted project.”