Opinion

About 21 reasons to love 21 Acres

Pegging a description of 21 Acres is hard to do. But it suddenly has become much more than a concept, covering many precious and farmable acres at the north end of the soil rich Sammamish Valley.

Eighteen acres or more are covered with crops. Cascadia Community College’s Sustainable Energy club has laid claim to plant, tend and harvest an acre. A kid’s farm camp will open up in late summer.

Beneath a foundation securely resting on pilings called fill-replacing “geopiers,” the east wing of a permanent home for classes, kitchens and a year-round covered farmers market is springing up within view of the south ring bypass road in downtown Woodinville.

Pretty exciting stuff. A determined community visionary — Gretchen Garth — deserves a great deal of praise for her unyielding support of this groundbreaking project. 21 Acres and what it represents and offers is slowly proving to doubters that our future is again with the land and with concepts that sustain not only our economy but our very life-giving source of energy and sustenance. Too many of us have been slow to come around to this realization.

Eighteen of the 21 Acres site is under vegetable and berry crop production, with Erik Gibson-Snyder and his Growing Washington organization also taking on a pair of sizeable neighboring fields to help meet the demand for organic, locally-grown produce. Growing Washington offers weekly food boxes for local residents who make their selections to later pick up the fresh items right at the farm site.

On a recent Saturday, more than 35 students from Cascadia showed up for the day to build a fence to keep out deer, construct beanpoles, plant spuds and lay out the balance of their very own plot.

Cascadia is the only state community college offering a two-year degree in environmental technologies and sustainable practices. While the program attracted less than a handful in winter quarter this academic year, the arrival of instructor Mel Oyler has since seen the enrollment jump to 30 by spring quarter. The formation of the Cascadia Sustainable Energy Club was the outgrowth of the new program and the students’ discovery of 21 Acres as a site where they could apply some of their zeal in the plentiful opportunities for practical learning experiences.

Club president Glenn Cole reports that club members laid out and built a “curving main pathway through our own 21 Acres camp and designed and built a domed structure made of local natural materials. I was amazed at how everyone just jumped in and made themselves useful. We left with Emily almost in tears over the progress that had been made in preparing for her children’s summer camp.”

Cole was referring to Emily Moore, a well-regarded Seattle chef and culinary arts instructor who plans to devote several weeks this summer showing kids 9 to 12 years old that not all food comes out of a box or grows in plastic. The students worked side by trench with Emily on that Saturday to lay the groundwork for the campsite where the youngsters will have a week to see how crops grow, what it takes to stock the produce aisles of their local grocery store or the lunch room at their school.

Dave Meuhlheisen was brought on board earlier this year to develop the education component for the long-range goals of 21 Acres. He already has 22 students working at 21 Acres, exploring what it takes to become an urban farmer. When the first structure is complete, there will be room for those same students to have a classroom for the lab and book-learning parts of this exercise. Dave notes that consumer education will get considerable attention in the process.

Dave has worked the past several years in Olympia where he has coordinated a seed to table concept connecting those who grow for a living with students at Evergreen State College. He’s a hands-on instructor with an engaging personality, bound to harness the enthusiasm of those intrigued with the possibilities of 21 Acres.

While Cascadia students toiled in the “back 40,” a number of individual gardeners tended their plots in the community garden. Herb and vegetable plantings were doing quite well in spite of the cold spring and the late start for the growing season. The entire site is pesticide free.

Heavy equipment located next to the community gardens was poised for construction. Foundation footings had been poured. One can only marvel at the energy-saving, environmentally ground-breaking features that will encompass the east wing of this unique, new 21 Acres Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living.

The 8,500-square-foot wing will feature a year-round farmers market, community kitchen, publicly available classroom space and a 50-kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel array. The array, for example, will consist of 286 high-efficiency solar panels and a power converter.

Just about any Saturday you’ll find 21 Acres a bustling place. Take a tour. You can even become a member. Learn a lot more at www.21acres.org.

John B. Hughes was owner-publisher of the Northshore Citizen from 1961 to 1988 and is active in local nonprofit organizations.

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