Call Me Lady Gaga: A Letter From Our Interim Executive Director

Dear friends,

I had an epiphany in the shower: visionaries fall in love with dreams. In my mind’s eye I was revisiting Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands’ (RBUFW) cover-cropped fields that serve as outdoor classrooms, a budding food forest that will feed the community, and wetlands bursting with native plants that provide wildlife habitat–including a recently spied beaver! In the same moment it was peaceful and pulsing with electricity.

The revelation? Recognizing that in this natural space in a multiplying city, we are forming culture around the land like we’ve done for millennia, reclaiming the importance of land stewardship to human systems. It’s in our DNA to make sure beavers are happy, so that our food is healthy and our interactions with our neighbors are rich.

Most Fridays, 50 people using sweat equity join to fulfill a dream of creating the community we want to live in. East African immigrant elders use shovels and wheelbarrows to remove invasive plants where a native forest will be. They set an example for groups of K-8 students on field trips with their science teachers, and for high schoolers with special needs who come for occupational therapy. The teens build skills like team work, communication and problem solving while doing tasks suited to each’s unique abilities.

In the kitchen, other elders prepare a traditional lunch that all can enjoy. “Regulars” include a horticultural therapist who works with people living with dementia on specialized activities that help develop or regain motor skills, and can reduce the need for medications and time spent in long term care. Plus, these elders simply experience the joy of spending time in nature–its own therapy.

Families drop in, too. Ashley and her toddler come most weeks, and even tiny Iris puts in two hours of labor. Ashley comes each week to expose Iris to nature, volunteerism and the neighborhood’s cultural diversity, even as she is expecting her second child.

As noon approaches, we gather in the kitchen, lining our plates with injera, topping the spongy bread with varieties of wat–a thick stew of onions, legumes, vegetables and fiery spices. Iris loves the Ethiopian food. She can’t understand what the elders say as they bless the meal, but she knows it’s a time to be quiet and attentive.

It sounds rarified, but it happens all the time and I’m gaga for it. All who experience the farm can thank the Tilth community for falling in love with a dream. Your vision and support have created a unique space where a community–from fetuses to octogenarians, and from many cultures and capabilities–enjoy communion with nature, nourishment and each other.

Because you conjured, upheld and created RBUFW, there’s a place where people have the freedom to be themselves, the humility to learn from those around us, and the opportunity to grow beyond where we started.

All that, and a nice lunch, too? How could one not fall in love? Thank you. Do you have a special memory of the farm? I’d love to hear it:


Leesa Marie Schandel
Interim Executive Director and Proud Tilth Alliance Donor

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