One Saturday morning a few weeks ago, my friend Caitlin texted me an odd message. “My neighbors are having a really weird yard sale,” she wrote. “You should come check this out.” She’d walked out her front door one weekend morning in the Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford and found a table full of beets and chard set up in her neighbors’ front yard. It was much like a roadside produce stand one finds in rural America — except it was smack in the middle of a 3.3-million-strong metropolis. Turns out it happens every Saturday from May until Thanksgiving: Her neighbors are running a farm stand out of their front yard.
There are peas growing along the sidewalk, compost bins stacked along the side of the house, and raised beds in the back. On a table in the front yard lie bunches of spinach and fat radishes. Becky Warner, one of the farmers, stands on the sidewalk in muck boots and flannel. A guy walks up with a chubby Scottish terrier to pick up his CSA share. “Hank the tank!” Warner greets them. When a farm is this local, apparently you know your farmer and they know your dog.
Warner and four other urban farmers grow food in five backyards in north Seattle. Since 2011 they’ve been selling it at their front yard farm stands and through a CSA. They call their dispersed urban farm City Grown, and it’s exactly that: Food both grown and sold in the city.
But not everyone with a backyard full of extra kale can sell it like summer lemonade. Seattle remains largely ahead of the curve: City Grown can sell food because in 2008, the city council passed a citywide food action plan, Resolution 31019, to encourage urban agriculture. In 2010, they updated it to allow urban farmers to sell their products onsite, even if those sites weren’t zoned for commercial use, which made operations like City Grown viable. “If it’s not following the exactly letter of the law, it’s pretty close,” Warner says.