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CitySoil Farm Grows a New Generation of Gardeners

2017-01-26- Soil Testing by Missy (3)

Fedora Williams carries on her family’s farming tradition in a whole new way.

As an immigrant to the United States in the late 1870’s, her great-great-grandfather began a living land trust with a small plot of land in Kansas. That land is passed from generation to generation, acquiring new acres as each new family member takes over. A fourth generation farmer, Williams remembers a childhood of school, chores, and more chores:  feeding animals, chopping wood, harvesting the garden for dinner. She has been involved in growing food all her life.

Today, Fedora Williams works for King Conservation District on a unique 1.5-acre farm site located at King County’s South Treatment Plant in Renton. The CitySoil site was once an unused area of the treatment plant’s grounds. It has been transformed into a teaching farm and native tree nursery that showcases sustainable farming and accessible, local food.

2017-02-04 Tree Workshop by Fedora (7)

Photo courtesy of Fedora Williams

The food grown at City Soil is accessible to everyone. Volunteers and students harvest the food as they learn or tend to the farm.  Most of the food is donated to the White Center Food Bank for those in need. Every year produce is donated to the King County CHOMP dinner, where local Seattle chefs prepare a five star meal to raise money for a local non-profit organization. As CitySoil grows, increased food production will help expand donations to other organizations in need.

CitySoil is a partnership including King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD), Tilth Alliance, DIRT Corps, and King Conservation District.

FedoraCitySoil is a far cry from Fedora Williams’ family farm. It is located on industrial property, surrounded by a growing urban area. There are no coyotes to call. While CitySoil may not resemble the farm country Williams knew, it represents a new way to farm that she views as more sustainable and healthy than the monoculture farming of her past.

“I think we all agree that we want to eat,” she says. “Understanding where our food comes from and how it is grown is vital to our survival. We need to live in a world where our food is grown sustainably and locally.”

Williams learned about sustainable farming from her family’s personal garden, where practices were very different from commercial farming. CitySoil represents those practices, producing healthy local food, and using renewable resources right from King County’s treatment plant: recycled water and GroCo compost made with Loop® biosolids. Recycled and salvaged materials are also used on the farm.

CitySoil does more than just use recycled resources. As a demonstration farm, CitySoil helps people learn about food systems so that they can care about them.

“Currently, we waste about 40% of the food that we grow,” says Williams.

King County Solid Waste Division estimates about 25% of the waste occurs at home, and contributes not only to landfills but also to climate change.


Fedora Williams knows that dynamic changes when people grow their own food. “When you grow a plant from seed, you bring it to your dining room table and you eat that food, you’re so much less likely to waste it.”

According to Williams, “Learning is what CitySoil Farm is all about. Students get the big picture and have fun being outside and using their senses. They’re learning how they can make an impact on their environment for the rest of their life.”

Everyone is welcome to get involved at CitySoil, whether you are an experienced gardener or fearful that you have inherited a black thumb. You can join the fun folks at City Soil Farm for monthly workshops and volunteer days. It’s an opportunity to learn about recycled water, biosolids, composting, permaculture, tree pruning, harvesting methods, plant identification, rain gardens, and techniques like hugelkultur.  There is a bonus during harvest: the opportunity to take a bag of fresh produce home.

2017-02-23 CitySoil by Fedora (3)

Photo courtesy of Fedora Williams

Fedora Williams says CitySoil is special not just because of its unique location and sustainable practices.  It’s a place where she can transform lifelong experience growing food into inspiration for students and volunteers. She knows that once these people get their hands in the dirt and taste fresh food they harvested from a garden, they will want to grow healthy food in a healthy environment for the rest of their lives.