Seaside resident Mary Blake is steering an effort to expand the Clatsop Community Gardens, as well as local access to nutritional food and education, and she’s asked the city of Seaside to join in creating a public/private partnership.
Blake, who is involved with multiple food-focused nonprofit organizations, presented to her ideas to the Seaside City Council at a meeting in March, and the councilors expressed support for her end goal. The path to get there, though, is slightly more clouded.
Blake would like to see the creation of a public/private partnership that would provide opportunities for participation from many groups, such as the South Clatsop County Food Bank, the North Coast Food Web, Clatsop County Master Gardeners, Sunset Empire Park & Recreation District and the Friends of the Clatsop Community Gardens. The partnership, she hopes, would give county residents access to public gardens and various nutrition and wellness programs.
“Right now, there isn’t a coalition built, but a lot of the parties are really aware of the opportunity that can be created,” she said.
She wants to leave it open-ended at this point and offer multiple interested agencies and organizations “a place at the table.”
The idea for this new project germinated when Blake and others involved with the community gardens expressed a desire to expand the program and offer more space. The North Coast Food Web, of which Blake also is a part, has identified a few barriers to farming on the north coast, such as weather, lack of land and cost.
She was then reminded the city owns a 107-acre farm on Lewis and Clark Road, east of Seaside, and that could be a potential location to kick-start a support system for people who want to start their own garden but have a limited budget and little to no access to land.
The program also could be a companion piece to Seed to Supper, a five-week course offered through the Oregon Food Bank and the Oregon State University Extension Service. The Seed to Supper class is available to everyone, not only recipients of food bank services.
Other ideas for how this program could be used, Blake said, include: developing local jobs, public education around healthy and local food, making connections for a more efficient food system and growing food for local pantries, as well as restaurants, hospitals, schools and other groups.
“We think a good pilot program would be 10-acres and see how that goes,” she said.
She also believes a program of this nature would fit well into Clatsop County’s participation in the Way to Wellville program and there might be potential grant opportunities through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At the March 23 meeting, several of the council members expressed support for the idea and encouraged the group to move forward in determining what will be the next steps and crafting a concrete plan.
Council member Jay Barber said he was excited about the opportunity to possibly create a public/private partnership for use of the property.
Public Works Director Neal Wallace said the discussion is still in a very early stage, and there could be some obstacles that postpone or impede access to use of the farm for this purpose.
“I see lots of possibilities and lots of good ideas, but I haven’t pursued this enough to have things very well cemented,” he said.
The city currently is using part of the property for the Public Works Department’s wastewater treatment system. The department is transitioning to a dependence on its dryer to produce eco-friendly fertilizer pellets from the sludge leftover from the treatment process, but right now the farm still is used for applying those biosolids.
“We are trying to get the dryer to be a bigger part of the process out there and we hope to not be utilizing the city farm,” Wallace said.
The city recently faced some issues with the dryer, including the lack of a person to operate it because the department was short-handed for a while due to injuries and health issues. They are trying to “phase it back in,” Wallace said, but the farm has to be available as a back-up plan.
“I can’t put the function of the sewer plant in jeopardy for a community farming project,” he said.
Even once the department identifies a piece of the property that could get the program started, other steps would have to take place before it could be used.
Wallace is unsure of particular environmental regulations, but he believes soil testing or other analyses would have to take place to ensure the property is suitable to grow crops for human consumption. There also likely would be a period of time after ending the application of biosolids the city would have to wait. Those are things the city has to figure out, Wallace said.
“I think there’s definitely a waiting period,” he said. “I’m not sure that I see the city parcel being the answer if this is something they want to get jumped into right away. I see this being a possible long-term, down-the-road solution.”
Even if the city’s farm is not the best option for right now, though, he believes other property could be obtained for the program.
“I have faith that this is something that will happen – I’m not sure exactly when or exactly where,” he said.