A Look Inside Our Intern Workshops

By Carolyn Crowder

This is a special blog post, written by our 2020 Summer VISTA Carolyn Crowder about her experience developing workshops for our high school interns.

Carolyn, the author of this post, showing off an extra large radish at Elk Run Farm

Every Wednesday during our summer internship, we take an hour and a half of the afternoon with the interns to workshop about topics that are relevant and important to the farm and our mission. Elk Run’s primary objective is to get as much beautiful and nutritious produce to the food banks as possible– but the second is education. Workshops are a way for the group to learn new concepts, be challenged in their thinking, and understand the importance of the work they are doing. 

Agenda and white board notes from a workshop at Elk Run Farm in summer 2020

Our first workshop focused on goal setting. As a group, we outlined our ground rules and intentions for the summer. Then, we all set 3 individual goals for ourselves, that we continue to circle back to throughout the summer and update each other on our progress.

The following Wednesday, the workshop concentrated on soil health and composting. In order to have an impactful and informed discussion, the interns were required to read articles and watch videos that reviewed ideas of soil science and the way composting works. During our time, we focused on ideas of the Soil Food Web and the Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy. At the end, we collected soil from our field to investigate the percentages of clay, silt, and sand in it and to discuss what this means. Hannah brought up that she liked this part of the workshop because “we got to learn from the soil physically.” Keila said that her thinking was challenged by “How complex ‘dirt’ is, like there is a LOT going on!” She also mentioned that this was her favorite workshop as well, because she “likes the science behind it and knows its importance. It applies to both big scale farming and small scale gardening.”

Hands on activities like the classic jar test make the workshops more interactive for students (and staff!)

Our next workshop involved the subject of equity and privilege. We each personally filled out a privilege checklist and then came back together to discuss what surprised us and what we felt as a result. Next, we aimed to define the important definitions of equity, privilege, and intersectionality. Finally, the interns began to brainstorm what an equitable food system could look like in Maple Valley or King County. 

Indigenous Food Ways was the discussion of week 4. We specifically focused on the six pillars of Food Sovereignty throughout our time. As a group, we brainstormed ways we could achieve food sovereignty in Maple Valley and King County, as well as action steps we as individuals can take to contribute to the cause. It was Naomi’s favorite workshop, as she commented “It was a topic I hadn’t heard about this year. My eyes were opened to its importance.”

The next topic of our workshop involved Black Americans and Farming. Marissa added it allowed her to “Educate myself more on my privilege and also tie justice into the farm and our work.” Interns were required to do background reading on two groups–Soul Fire Farm, a BIPOC-centered community farm in Petersburg, New York; and Wakulima USA, a farming and food business cooperative that advances small business development and food sovereignty for low income immigrants and people of color in the Puget Sound region, who’s founding members are Kiswahili speaking African immigrants. During our time, we split into two groups to dive deeper into these groups, discussing why they are important and what their mission is. Then, we came together to discuss what we can learn and take from these groups and implement in Elk Run. 

The Green Revolution was the subject of week 7’s workshop. We separated the whiteboard into 4 different categories, being Culture/Societies, Technology, Individuals/People, and Land/Environment. Then, we had the group list the pros and cons of the movement from each category that they had learned about from the homework or had prior knowledge of, which Xavier found to be his favorite part of any workshop activity we have done before. Rae liked the workshop because there was “A lot of new information I never was aware of.” Mckenna said it has been her favorite thus far, adding “I liked how in the Green Revolution Workshop, we looked at how it helped and also hurt, so it wasn’t just good or just bad.”

Students practicing their debate skills while investigating the Green Revolution

As of recently, our latest workshop subject involved farmworker justice. Each intern came prepared with 5 issues facing farmworkers in the US. During our workshop time, we combined our thoughts and knowledge onto the whiteboard. Then, the interns looked at the UN’s list of human rights and decided in pairs what rights are being violated. Finally, we discussed ways people can utilize tactics such as unions to fight for the rights and justice for farmworkers.

It has been so great to see everyone learn and grow together through the workshops this summer. It’s been upsetting to be exposed to so much injustice in the world, and also inspiring, to see the ways people are working to make a change, including Elk Run Farm.

Since writing this post, Carolyn has started college in Montana. We will miss her greatly and wish her well!

Cut Flowers on the Farm

We now have cut flowers available on site to help support the farm!

Snapdragons

Zinnias, Sunflowers, Dahlias, Marigolds, and Snapdragons are just a few examples of what we have been growing for the community. They are for sale by donation, and we suggest about $1 per flower. Times you can pick up are:

-Tuesday and Thursday from 10 am – 12 pm

-Saturday from 10 am – 2 pm

Anyone is welcome to additionally volunteer for us during these times so long as they sign up in advance!

Virtual Fundraiser!

virtual fundraiser flier- final

Everybody deserves to taste a fresh, ripe, local tomato. At Elk Run Farm, we teach people to grow healthy, natural food for local food banks. That’s how we turn cycles of hunger into profound local empowerment. On June 5th, we’re gathering live, from our homes, to connect you with our vibrant farm community. Join us to learn how we’ve transformed an old golf course in Maple Valley into a fertile farm producing healthy food for food banks.

Who- Everyone who loves Elk Run Farm, local food lovers, and food justice advocates.

What- A live streamed fundraising event supporting Elk Run Farm, filled with food, music, and community.

When- June 5th at 6 pm to 8:30 pm

Where- At your home!

Why- To celebrate the Elk Run Farm community and raising funds for the farm

How- View on Youtube Live or Facebook Live

RSVP on Facebook!

Recipe

 

 

As part of the festivities, our guest chef Taryn from Hot Pan Kitchen has provided us with a delicious recipe.

She will be leading a cooking demonstration during the event so be sure to stock up on ingredients this week so you can follow along at home!

Check out the full recipe here.

 

 

Community Cookbook and Vegetable Bracket Corn-ament

Elk Run Farm

Sharing food brings us together. Even if we can’t physically be there to cook and eat together, Elk Run Farm wants to celebrate connecting over food by creating a community cookbook.

Use this form to share your best veggie-heavy recipes to be featured in the Elk Run Farm Community Cookbook! We will be sharing the finished e-book with participants of the virtual fundraiser on June 5th so be sure to join us then.

We are looking for recipes that include fruits and vegetables grown at the farm. These include: Asparagus, Beets, Bok Choi, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Collard Greens, Corn, Cucumber, Edamame, Eggplant, Garlic, Green Beans, Green Onions, Herbs, Hot Peppers, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Melons, Mustard Greens, Onions, Potato, Pumpkin, Radishes, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Snap Peas, Spinach, Sweet Pepper, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Turnips, Winter squash,  and Zucchini!

Submissions are accepted now through May 31st!

Access the Form Here

Green Veggies Health and Wellness Lifestyle and Hobbies T-Shirt

Join Elk Run Farm for our live-streamed Vegetable Bracket Corn-ament, to see which vegetable is the ultimate champion! Vote for your favorite vegetables and see how your taste stacks up with the rest of the community. Bracket lineups and updates will be announced during the weekly live streams, where you’ll get a firsthand look at how Elk Run Farm grows your favorite veggie champs.

Submit your vote each week at elkrunfundraiser.skcfc.org!

2020 High School Internship

20190806_114018 (1)

2019 Interns showing off all the produce they harvested in one day!

For the third season, we are selecting high school students to work on the farm with us this summer! For 15 hours a week, between 7-10 students will learn how to plant, tend, harvest, and process 35 different kinds of fruits and vegetables at Elk Run Farm. The 10 week program starts the week after school releases for the summer, and ends the week before school starts again. However, our Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday work schedule means that our interns still have plenty of time to enjoy their summer break!

20190627_132008

Interns inspect kohlrabi plants for pests

In addition to learning farm skills, our interns learn how to work in a team, develop leadership skills as they learn how to lead community members in farm tasks, and how to make decisions to ensure that the most critical work happens at the right time all season long. As well as these practical skills, we host weekly workshops on topics ranging from soil science, to pollinators, to farm worker justice, to deepen their connection to the work the farm does in the community. 

20190807_133556

Jillian teaches interns about native pollinators during weekly workshop series.

Over the course of the summer, we go on weekly field walks, recording what crops are ready for harvest and what other farm tasks need done. Then we take those lists down to our white boards, and together, we decide which crops will get harvested which day of the week, and prioritize other tasks throughout the week. At the beginning of the summer, the interns don’t have much to contribute, as they are just starting to learn to see what is happening around them on the farm. We talk through our observations, showing them what to pay attention to, and how to predict what is going to happen. By the end of the summer, the interns lead the field walks, with staff tagging along just to make sure that nothing critical gets missed. Interns set the weekly agenda, team up to carry out the harvest, and take our community volunteers along with them. By the last two weeks of summer, farm staff wouldn’t even have to show up, the farm would move along smoothly without us. We do, of course, but the growing independence and skill of our interns is one of the great joys of every growing season.

20190730_100806

Interns work together to put together harvest plan for the week.

This summer will be different from the last two in a few key ways, all related to the pandemic. Normally, we take field trips to visit the food banks we grow for, so the interns get to distribute the produce they harvested themselves and see first-hand how their work impacts the community. For now, all those visits are cancelled. While we mourn the loss of those opportunities, the safety of our interns and everyone at the food banks is the most important thing. We will also be limiting the number of community volunteers on the farm during the weekday harvests, so the interns will have somewhat less opportunity to practice their leadership in that way. Some of the workshops we have are led by outside experts. Those experts may come to the farm via video chat instead of in person, depending on how the pandemic progresses through the growing season. Finally, all interns will be required to wear masks while working on the farm, until health experts change their recommendations. Keeping everyone on the farm safe and healthy will be our highest priority this growing season.

Join our Team

 

COVID-19 Response & Plan

3_13_2020

To our supporters,

First, work at the farm will continue this season, and is more important than ever. Much of the farm work this time of year is completed by Tahoma High School Plant Sciences classes. With the reality of school closures and the loss of the students that help us kick off the season, we need your help.

We respect people’s need to protect themselves and their families. We are closely monitoring  Public Health- Seattle & King County recommendations and are working to reduce the risk to our staff and volunteers. Our strategy is to have smaller groups of volunteers more frequently to help plant, tend, and harvest vegetables.

To cope with the impact of COVID-19 and the loss of so many of our volunteers, we also need monetary support and physical donations. Please consider donating to our online giving campaign, through PayPal, and/or purchasing items from our AmazonSmile wish list. Sharing these links is also an important way to support our work!

Community food security is even more important now, with students out of school and missing school breakfast and lunch, parents having to stay home from work or having hours cut, and a general strain on our regions resources.

Food banks are a critical link in keeping our community fed and healthy. Our mission is making sure that the food banks have fresh nutritious food by growing it ourselves, and that work is more critical than it has ever been in the history of the farm.

Due to new social distancing recommendations from Public Health, we are limiting the number of volunteers who can attend each work party. Registration is now required for all events and no drop-ins are allowed. See the following information for how you can be involved:

Wednesday Volunteer Work Parties

Saint Patrick’s Day (3/17) Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

3/25 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

4/1 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

4/8 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

4/15 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

Saturday Volunteer Work Parties

3/28 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

4/4 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

4/11 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

4/18 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

4/25 Work Party- Facebook Event & Signup Link

Other Ways to Volunteer

Additionally, we are going to open the farm on Tuesdays and Thursdays for individual volunteering. From 12-4, farm staff will be onsite, working in the office. Community members are welcome to come alone or in very small groups (less than 8) during this time for self-guided work. There will be a continuously updated list of tasks you can work on, and the tool shed will be open. We will give basic instructions if you want to work on an unfamiliar task, but we expect volunteers at this time to work independently and practice social distancing from other volunteers who may also be on the farm. We will have handwashing facilities and hand sanitizer for everyone. Getting out of the house, being active, and breathing fresh air are all important ways to keep yourself healthy, so please feel free to come to the farm during this time, even just to enjoy the sunshine. 

_______________________________________________________________________

If you have questions or concerns, please reach out via text or call to 206.556.0156 or direct message on Instagram or Facebook.

In community,

Your farmers (Maggie and Maria)

Tahoma Transitions Students and Elk Run Farm team up for a win-win

 

Written by Transition Program Staff Kristin Felsl

IMG_2171

Trying to stay warm on the farm in the snow in January

Rain or shine, three Tahoma High School transition interns work at Elk Run Farm on Tuesdays and chip away at the never ending to do list a farm has to offer. The district transition program provides an additional three years of job and life skill training for 18-21 year olds.

Under the leadership of farm manager Maria Anderson, interns learn farm skills including planting, harvesting, bed maintenance in addition to plant identification. One intern, Justin Olds, has been a volunteer at the farm for many years and his work skills have transferred to a paid position at a local golf course. 

20180417_101317

Interns Justin and Chris holding beets they harvested and washed

The current 22 interns in the program also train at Bridget’s, Johnson’s, Safeway, Children’s Therapy Center, Walgreens, Lake Wilderness Arboretum, and Grocery Outlet. All sites provide the opportunity to practice job skills including punctuality, grooming, following directions, working with peers and stamina. Feel free to stop and say hello to our interns (they wear a Tahoma name badge) and introduce yourself, they are eager to share with you the skills they are learning. 

IMG953468

Transitions Interns delivering produce they harvested to the Maple Valley Food Bank

When on campus, transitions interns participate in activities of daily living including cooking, making purchases, time management, home cleaning, self care and personal relationships. 

Young adults enjoy weekly community outings which allow them to practice social skills. This past fall they enjoyed foot golf, a tour of King County Office of Emergency Management and visited Renton Technical College.

2019 Season Wrap-up

Even though plants don’t go in the ground until March, the farming season really begins in November. Most plants are out of the field  by then, and farm is put to bed for the winter, so our thoughts turn to planning the next season. Last November, we set a harvest target of 8,000 pounds for 2019, and as of the 6th of November 2019, we harvested 7,905 lbs. With three rows of carrots, three rows of green onions, as well as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli still left in the field for another two weeks, we should hit 8,000 by the end of the calendar year! 

Pounds are only one way that we measure the work of the farm:

  • We also harvested 38 different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and herbs
  • If we sold our produce through a CSA or farmers market, the direct market value of our crops was around $30,000
  • We harvested and delivered produce 50 times from May-November
  • We added more cultural and specialty foods including 5 lbs of ginger in the hoophouse! We also grew epazote (a mexican herb) for the first time, and it was wildly productive. We also grew dill for the first time and it was an underachiever.

We learned a lot and know what we need to do better next season for these crops (mostly choose a better variety, and fertilize more). Every farming season has its triumphs and disappointments, and the goal is to steadily increase the former, and minimize the latter as much as possible.

Triumphs:

Our summer squash production was huge. We averaged almost 3 pounds per bed foot of squash, the highest of any crop. Whenever new gardeners ask what they should grow at home, we recommend zucchini. It’s almost bulletproof, and grows productively in most soils. It is important to keep it watered regularly, and plan for two or three plantings across the season to keep production high.

We struggled with carrots and broccoli in 2018, but we crushed them in 2019! We grew almost 500 pounds of carrots and we are on track to grow even more in 2020. Everyone loves carrots and they are one of the crops that genuinely tastes better when grown locally. Broccoli is the absolutely most requested vegetables from food bank customers, and we finally had really solid production over the whole season with nice sized heads.

 

 

Lettuce is another crop that we struggled with in 2018 but, with closer attention to choosing different varieties for different seasons, we really streamlined production. One of the most joyous things about the way we grew lettuce this season is that we mixed all the varieties for each season together and planted them together. They were so beautiful to watch grow, and volunteers regularly commented on how lovely they made the farm.

Disappointments:

We had a crop failure in the greenhouse of eggplant and peppers which resulted in no eggplant at all, and only a few dozen pounds of peppers this season. We know what went wrong, and we are on track to fix the problem for the 2020 season. Proper heat, lighting, and fertilizer in the greenhouse are critical to the success of those babies in the greenhouse.

Our tomato crop was afflicted on both ends. As soon as the tomatoes started turning red on the vine, the neighborhood crows started pecking holes in them. We have never had crows act like that on the farm before, and they didn’t stop until we put up some flashy tape that kept them out of the tomato rows. The remarkably cool, wet summer we had also resulted in the tomatoes getting late blight in September, meaning that we lost an entire month+ of production moving into the fall. They went from having a few brown speckles on the stems to the whole plant turning black in about 10 days. We ripped them out, and a volunteer took them to a local industrial composting facility. The kind of composting we do on the farm doesn’t kill the late blight, and any compost we made from those plants would have added more disease to the beds it was applied to. Despite these challenges, we still harvested over 500 pounds of tomatoes this summer.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Despite some challenging weather, this was our most productive, organized, and comfortable season yet. For the first time we weren’t working on any major infrastructure projects, so all of our focus was on crop production and teaching our students, interns, and volunteers. We want everyone who comes to the farm to learn something new and leave knowing that they made their community stronger and more resilient. A huge thank you to everyone who helped out this growing season and to our South King County community that continues to provide endless love and support.

If you are interested in the specific pounds we harvested this season, take a look at the chart below. 

Crop Pounds
Basil 80
Beets 384
Berries 114
Bok Choy 545
Broccoli 147.5
Cabbage 109
Carrots 421
Cauliflower 59
Chard 67
Cilantro 42.5
Collards 92
Cucumbers 511
Dill 11
Epazote 40
Fennel 35
Garlic 181
Garlic Scapes 38.7
Ginger 5
Green Beans 206
Green Onions 186
Kale 191
Kohlrabi 398
Lettuce 721
Parsley 2
Peas 199
Peppers 24
Potatoes 148
Radish 169.5
Rhubarb 45.5
Sorrel 51
Spinach 179
Strawberry 19
Summer Squash 1496
Tomatillos 105
Tomato 534
Turnip 256
Winter Squash 79
Woody Herbs 14

Summer into Fall

As we settle into a Pacific Northwest fall and winter, we can’t help but look back on the busy, productive summer we had on the farm. August and September are always the busiest harvest months of the year for us. Cucumber, summer squash, green beans, and tomatoes all need to be picked every two or three days to stay productive, so our volunteers participated in three harvests a week at the peak of the season.

Volunteers Washing and Bunching Chard.jpg

Cucumbers and squash, (both members of the Cucurbit family) were our most prolific vegetables by weight. Most days we harvested over 100 pounds from that section of the field! We finally figured out how to grow really nice carrots this year, and we grew some of the biggest carrots any of us have ever seen. Other highlights include weekly strawberry and raspberry harvests, some beautiful eggplants, and ‘Prize Choy’ bok choy that has never failed us, regardless of what time of year we plant it.

Eggplants sunny

Last eggplant harvest of the season

As we pull plants out of the field at the end of the season, like the tomatoes we cut down a month ago, we are seeding cover crop. Our winter cover crop is mix of cereal rye and hairy vetch (with a scattering of peas for tender shoots in the spring). Together, this cover crop mix provides a multitude of benefits for our farm ecosystem. The plants in our specific mix suppress weed growth, fix nitrogen in the soil for fertilizer, create lots of plant material that we will compost to feed the soil in the future, and prevent erosion from the rain and wind we always get in the winter on the farm. The process of putting most of the farm to bed for the winter is always a little bittersweet, but after such a busy growing season, we (the soil and the farmers) are all ready for a little break.

Elk Run Farm has a matching gift of $20,000 on the table! Will you help us reach our goal?

20180115_130001Elk Run Farm has some exciting news: a private donor has agreed to match up to $20,000 in donations! After hearing all of our exciting plans for 2018, this donor challenged us to make a call for action to our community to match this gift dollar for dollar. From now until June, every dollar gifted to the farm will be doubled and help us build Elk Run Farm up to its full potential.

South King County is home to many census tracts that have extremely limited access to nutritious, affordable foods, including fruits and vegetables. Our food banks also struggle with this lack of access and fresh produce has become more of a luxury than a norm for communities that visit the food banks. Much of the fruits and vegetables that are donated to food banks are deemed unsellable by grocery stores, are a couple days away from the compost and are low in nutrition. Our food banks believe that everyone, regardless of income, deserves access to sustainably-grown, high quality fruits and vegetables. They wanted to change what they could offer to their clients.

20170804_105528In 2015, Elk Run Farm was born to do just that. All the produce we grow goes directly to our member food banks, and into clients’ homes in a matter of days. We’ll let our clients speak for themselves on how the farm has impacted their lives. One client, after receiving Swiss chard from our free farm stand, said, “You know what I will do with all this produce? Just throw it all together with some oil and garlic and stir fry it. This is really good stuff, you could sell it. This MADE my week!”

20170708_132548.jpgNow, we have a full growing season under our belt with several key infrastructure pieces in place. Our volunteers have helped us reached 10 different food banks in our region and have donated about 17,000 serving sizes. And the farm is still growing! This winter, a construction crew working right next to our parking lot set us up with a new field that has doubled our growing space. We’re working with 90+ high school students and a variety of youth groups to provide hands-on education about sustainable farming. With all this growth though, we are still not where we need to be. Our farm infrastructure still needs support so we can better serve our food bank clients and students.

With your gift, we can finish the infrastructure at Elk Run Farm. Will you donate $25 or more so we can reach our goal of $20,000 and receive the full match? Building up our farm infrastructure means more produce in the food banks, a more authentic farm experience for students and volunteers, and a stronger local food system. This money will pay for:

  • a well pump installationIMG_20180222_131024_241
  • electricity
  • a completed in-ground irrigation system
  • a farm-scale composting system
  • a walk-in cooler

Your gift will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, until June. So please consider donating now and doubling your gift! As a token of our appreciation, all donors who give $50 or more will receive a small jar of honey from our very first bee hives (while supplies last).

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 2.18.02 PM

Your support provides these major benefits:

  • Food bank clients have a long-term source of fresh, high quality produce, grown just for them and based on their preferences
  • Volunteers are connecting to each other, their community, and reconnecting to a food growing tradition
  • High school students get hands-on urban farming experience, and directly impact families experiencing hunger in their community
  • More food grown in South King County stays in South King County, helping build a more resilient local food system

Through your gift to Elk Run Farm, you support South King County as a place of abundance for food bank clients and the broader farm community.

To donate, visit our fundraiser or contact us at (813) 509-0105. We’d be happy to answer any questions.

Thank you for your unwavering support and friendship!

Love,

The Elk Run Farm Team

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 2.08.21 PM