Happy weekend, friends!
Today we are honored and excited to have Katie from Seattle Farm School guest posting! Katie’s story is so much more than just a tutorial about urban farming. Her life is a success story about coming from a place of deep loneliness, to building a tribe and growing a community. Her post blesses my socks off and I know you’ll love it as well. Make sure to leave her some encouraging words, ok? Because we want these to be a place where kind words flow freely. Enjoy! -Angela
Making friends as a new mama can be really challenging. We knew even before having kids that we wanted me to stay home with them until they were in grade school. For Dusty and I, we made a habit of moving homes and changing jobs every year the first 5 years of marriage, and when we finally found ourself “settled” in a home we stayed in longer than a 12 month lease we had somehow whittled down our community of friends to just us 2, plus a few that we no longer lived by. Sure, we had our family, work friends, new neighbors, and acquaintances that we ran into from time to time, but we didn’t have the kind of friends we could share our everyday life with, hang out with on a whim, or call for a crazy favor. We are both nice people, loyal, honest, and at least a little bit fun and it sucked not having friends that lived nearby.
When our daughter was born and I became a stay at home mom, that isolation grew tenfold. I went from being around lots of fun people at work to being up all night and all day with a beautiful baby. My friendship department went bankrupt pretty quick. I’ve always had a lifelong best friend that lives a few hours away but was really craving mamas that were in my own community. I tried making new friends at the playground, the YMCA, ballet class, etc., but 2 minute conversations while trying to keep your toddler who is hell-bent on getting injured safe aren’t conducive to asking “wanna go steady and be my new bestie?” to that cool mom you just met.
We had one more kid, and moved one more time, in the spring of 2013 to my hometown of Seattle but in a different part where we knew zero people. After the unpacking was done, I walked my kids in the stroller all over our new area, going to parks, the library, grocery shopping, and exploring the streets around us. I started a garden at our new rental home because that’s what I do, and noticed as we were strollering our way into summer that there were a lot of gardeners that lived around us.
In the middle of that summer I did two things that changed the direction of our life forever and was the start of building my local crew of friends that is growing stronger all the time. The first game changer was enrolling my daughter in the local co-op preschool. Mostly because it was the cheapest option around and I could also be involved. Win win! It was the best decision ever. Every parent works one day a week at preschool and we have parent education meetings once a month – you get to know each other quickly and share the highs and lows of early parenthood together. This group has grown an incredibly strong bond and community that is changing my life daily. I am so thankful and grateful for these new friends that we get to live life with, grow our kids together and lean on each other. They are my tribe.
The second thing was starting a Facebook group called West Seattle Seed Swap – it was a group I started to passively meet other gardeners and exchange extra seeds and plant starts. Having an online group to meet people felt way less desperate than being the “wanna be my bestie” mom on the playground. Plus, these people had cool gardens and most worked during the day when I was peering into their yards while walking the kids somewhere and I wanted a way to learn from them. I had a bunch of half-packets of seeds that I didn’t want to go to waste and thought it might be nice to meet a few people in the neighborhood I could give them to. I started knocking on doors of homes that had great vegetable and fruit gardens and telling them about this Facebook group – some were responsive and some were not. One house that was just down the street from our new home had a really cool garden but I’d never seen the people living there. I knocked on their door and told the guy that answered about the Seed Swap group and he said “yeah, my wife just joined something like that last night!”. Sure enough, his wife was one of the very first people in the group and over the past couple years has become one of my closest friends and is now growing her own garden design business.
Word started to spread and after starting the group two years ago, it has evolved into an active community of over 500 people in and around the Seattle area and gained a new name: West Seattle Urban Farmers, because growing a small city-size garden is the gateway drug to getting chickens, and ducks, then raising bees, and doing so much more than swapping a few seeds (although we do a lot of that too!). There has been an off-shoot group in the Greater Burien area just to the south of us, and awesome community services that have started and thrived – sharing the harvest with neighbors and food banks. It’s such a cool group of people that daily and freely share plants, tools, wisdom, advice, ideas and encouragement. We are raising the awareness level of important topics like local, organic food and inspiring people to do more for themselves.
During our second summer here in Seattle I was brainstorming ways to make more money for our family. My husband is a great provider but it’s Seattle, and it’s expensive to do anything here. I had been fielding several requests to teach people how to make jam, start a small garden with their kids, learn how to sew – many of the things I do year round and decided to look for a classroom I could rent to teach anyone interested in these things. I started asking around to get a feel for how many people I should expect and what size room to find. Within a couple weeks the response was way above what I expected and people started finding me to see if they could help with this “project”. So we went bigger!
Last fall I officially launched Seattle Farm School and with a team of teachers who are all incredibly talented and passionate about sharing their skills, we started offering classes to the community in various topics. Since last November we’ve had several hundred people learn skills in our classes like beginning sewing projects, canning fall fruits, beginning crochet, goatsmilk soapmaking, making jam, growing potatoes in a bag, seed starting, roasting your own coffee, making papercraft flowers, wild food foraging, raising chickens in the city and many more! We have also hosted a community wide seed swap at the library with over 50 participants and a few weeks ago I organized a one-day Urban Farm Tour of West Seattle with 19 locations and over 100 participants! We featured private homes, community gardens, market gardens and organizations that teach and provide resources to urban farmers in our part of the city. It was AWESOME!
Starting Seattle Farm School has given me the opportunity to meet and partner with some of the coolest people in our area that are doing really amazing things here. Together we are tackling the urban population density issues with raising our own food, and making self reliance fun! The people who take our classes come from all around the Puget Sound and go home with a new skill, new friends and hopefully some happiness from joining us and being a part of this fun project.
In a technology focused city like Seattle it’s important for people to have ways to be creative, artistic and resourceful. Learning skills like sewing, food preservation, foraging, gardening and needlework give people a hands-on outlet that balances out the screen time and is a way to de-stress after work. I want kids to grow up connected to the land and grow their own food, especially if they live in one of the million brand new condos being built. I am so excited to see where we go from here and one day hope to have a permanent location for all the Seattle Farm School classes, and create a community hub for self-reliant and sustainable living activities and events. I love my city and am really grateful for the tribe of friends around me and the ways I get to give back to my community. If there was one lesson I have learned in the quest to build a community as a mom, it’s to be true to yourself and follow your passions. They will inevitably lead to others like you and you will be so happy to be doing what you love the most. My best wishes to you Healthy Mamas!
For a post Katie wrote about their journey to parenthood check out: The Pathway to Parenthood: On Love, Loss and Not Giving Up