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It has been two weeks since I started my internship at the Asian Counseling and Referral Services. In the past two weeks, I can see how my work was transformed into tangible improvements in the community. More importantly, this experience made me think about issues related to urban farming and food justice.

The Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) building, located in the Columbia City District of Seattle, in a neighborhood made up of underserved community and ethnicities

ACRS is a 45-year-old non-profit organization that promotes social justice and the well-being of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities. Its service encompasses a lot of themes, including Behavioral Health and Wellness, Employment and Training Services, Child and Youth Development, Citizenship and Immigration Assistance, etc. Since ACRS is a new non-profit partner with Duke Engage Seattle this year, I got to explore many different roles. For example, I help with the management of the Food Bank in the International District, assist the classes of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, organize the social accounts of the nutrition program under the ACRS, etc. Among them, the most impressive position is to manage and organize the Seattle Community Farm.

With a piece of over-grown land of a bit over an acre, the Seattle Community Farm is one of the many urban farms in the Emerald City of Seattle. It is about the same size as the Duke Campus Farm, but different is its location, right in the middle of a mid-class neighborhood. It was managed by another non-profit Solid Ground before. And just began its collaboration with ACRS this spring, which explains why it needs a lot of management and repair.

Everyday work at the Farm is very physically demanding, from daily weeding, planting to fixing the irrigation tubes, planning (learning to plan actually) what to plant in different beds and managing volunteers. Growing up in a completely urban setting, I am have never done anything like this before. In this process, I have learned a lot about farm work. Besides, the sense of accomplishment after each day’s work is just amazing. Especially, in the second week, I harvested about 16 lbs of lettuce, 5 lbs of radish and daikon. Though I didn’t plant them in the first place, it was still very satisfying to get fresh vegetables out of the soil beds where I plowed and weeded. We gave the harvest to the Food Bank for making sandwiches and later on distributed to the people who need food. Most importantly, in the process of working, I start to think about the profound problem of food justice and how it is intertwined with social, racial and economic justice.

The fresh-looking daikon and radish are the first harvest of the year. They were supplied to the ACRS Food Bank in the International District in Seattle to provide fresh produce for the homeless.

The city of Seattle has always had a deep root in urban farming. One of the most renowned traditions is the P-patch, which is a program that manages and promotes organic urban agriculture to individuals and groups. In fact, there are a couple of P-patches right by the side of the Seattle Community Farm. They are farmed by people living in the neighborhood. Little by little, I got to know the farmers there as they sometimes come and borrow tools from our well-equipped shed. As my supervisor told me, these farmers are mostly low-income, underserved and of minor ethnicities. She also told me how hard it is for farmers to earn money nowadays only by selling their products. The hard work these people put into their P-patch is not for a beautiful garden of flowers or high-quality fresh produce. They are actually growing for the basic food supply they need.

Everyone needs to eat, so farming problem and food justice affect everyone in the society. From my own eyes, I have observed the queer phenomenon of how farmers growing food for all consumers can’t enjoy what they deserve of their hard work. From the make-up of the ethnicity of the farmers at the P-patches, I have also become aware of how food justice issues are related to poverty and racial inequality. This is the social problem that I want to learn more about in the coming weeks of my service.