A few months back, I got a question from a fellow by the name of Sean about where I source my stickers and patches. He told me he was starting up an urban farming collective in the Seattle area. What’s more, he said they were going to be bike powered! Being the highly trained investigative journalist that I am, I set up a puff-piece interview propagandizing exactly how awesome I think this Sean guy and his cronies are. So without any further ado, here’s the story of Alleycat Acres!
Kit: So tell me about Alleycat Acres. What’s it all about?
Sean Conroe:We’re an upcoming urban farming collective here in Seattle. Right now, we have 10 amazing alleycats involved in our group, Sustainable Seattle as our fiscal sponsor, and an ever so gracious homeowner who is letting us farm his roughly 1/5 acre of land here in the city.
Our plan is simple: dig, plant, eat, repeat. And we aim to do that by creating a network of gardens within certain neighborhoods on vacant spaces. The food we grow will eventually create a bike delivered, sliding scale CSA model for those in the areas we farm. We’re focusing on areas that can be considered food insecure — where access to fresh, healthy nibbles is limited and/or unaffordable to those who need it the most. We aim to really redefine what eating local means — why shouldn’t we be growing food in the city?
KK: You mention on your site that city laws in Seattle make things somewhat challenging for urban agriculturalists. Can you tell me how?
SC: That’s about to change. Really rapidly. For us, there’s legalities surrounding land use and zoning permits as far as selling food. For time being, according to these laws, we can’t sell the way we want to sell what we grow; we can donate it. So, we’re planning on donating to neighborhood food banks in the area, and have also toyed with creating unique drop zones where people may have an easier time getting to so they can have some of our fresh goodies.
But considering that Seattle just announced that 2010 is the Year of Urban Agriculture, the outlook is promising that we’ll be able to create what we set out to do, and many other projects and programs can be launched that couldn’t have been before.
The challenge now is to mobilize all of us who are involved in urban agriculture so the city can really find out what types of urban ag activies are and have been already occuring throughout town.
KK: So this all sounds pretty great, but I do feel obligated to ask this question on behalf of Zero Per Gallon’s founder, Jonny: Do you plan on using goats at any point in your urban gardening strategy?
SC: Thanks to the Goat Justice League, it is legal to own goats in the City of Seattle. We also have multiple rent-a-goat programs out here where you can hire goats to clear space. No lie!
And we’ve thought about it. Really really really thought about how rad it’d be to actually have a goat on a future site.
More realistically, though, if we get land in the future that needs clearing, perhaps we’ll hire some of these “party time” goats to get the job done while we kick back and throw down a cold one and munch on some carrots.
KK: Uh… I think we’d better avoid that line of conversation, but you do like bikes, too, right? I noticed that they seem to be a pretty integral part of your plan. Can you tell me how you plan on using them, and how they’ll make things easier and better?
SC: We’re aiming to craft nifty bike carts to attach to some of our two wheelers to deliver the treats we grow in the gardens. Bikes make for a more efficient approach to providing “farm fresh” food all around. And I don’t know if you know, but many a fruit and veggy secretly love going for rides on bikes, where they can enjoy the fresh air and the sun, akin to reasons why we love bikes.
We’re trying to minimize our impact over the long term. A bike is the hands down, easiest, wisest and most efficient choice for us to use as a mode of transportation. Plus, not being cooped up as a rat in a 7,000 lb metal cage allows us to interact more with people we pass on the streets. So tack on building community building as another reason why we believe in pedal powered produce.
KK: So are you all like, gnarly, bad-ass bike messengers?
SC: Nope. We’re just plain bad-ass.
You know, this question made me think of a speech that Mikael Colville-Andersen from Copenhagenize.com gave not that long ago about what a “cyclist” is in Denmark was — he defined it as being a person who rides a bicycle, which means that if grandma rides a bike, she’s a cyclist…whereas here, we have this cultural belief that cyclists are rebels, mischief makers. We don’t consider grandma a cyclist even if she rides a bike…
But for us, we’re a group of students, computer programmers, business owners, scientists, landscape architects, gardeners, bakers… I’m sure theres more labels you could slap on us. In fact, you I don’t think you could throw together a more diverse group individuals and have them get along as well as we do. All of us, however, have a huge passion for food and believe that everyone, regardless of economic status, should have access to it — and I bet that’s why we all work so well together. The tie that binds, if you will.
KK: Describe your favorite bike for me, as you would describe a lover.
SC: sleek, simple..and built to last. what more do you need?
KK: That reminds me, my brother-in-law is single and living in Seattle. Do you suppose you could help me hook him up with someone up there?
SC: Does he like boys? Girls? Bikes? Goats? I’m sure I can hook him up with someone. If I can’t come through, there’s always OKCupid, which, according to this guy I can hear at the coffee shop, is apparently the rage jam packed with hotties..
KK: That’s nice of you. I’ll pass those sage words from a loudmouthed Seattle coffeeshop patron along. How about any advice for people thinking about starting their own urban or community garden?
SC: Just dig it. No, really. Just get out there and do, errr..dig it. You’d be surprised at how supportive people are and how many people will want to help you. And chances are there are many groups doing what you want to do, but you just don’t know about them.
And there’s lots of money out there for these types of projects. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
KK: Can we really make a difference?
SC: Isn’t that how change has historically happened — because we made it? It’s the only way it ever happens. From the bottom up. You gotta start somewhere, and we’re starting by getting our hands and feet dirty.