Ellie Duncan — Co-Founder of Birchwood Farmers Market and City Sprouts Farm
According to the USDA, a food desert is an area that “lacks fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods.” Although Washington is full of produce and Bellingham is full of grocery stores, both Birchwood and Alderwood qualify as food deserts. Birchwood has been a food desert for years, in part due to Albertsons closing in 2016.
When local Bellingham farmer Ellie Duncan and her farm partner, Annah Young, learned about the food access issue in Birchwood, they decided to do something about it. They started Birchwood Farmers Market in 2018.
Each week, the small-but-mighty cooperative, single-stand market features locally grown vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other goods from more than 10 growers and producers in Whatcom County. Duncan and Young do their best to keep prices as low as possible. They also accept EBT and Fresh Bucks.
DEEP ROOTS IN FARMING
Duncan began farming in high school when she volunteered at an urban vegetable farm in Missoula, where she grew up. She fell in love with farming and spent every summer for the next 10 years either volunteering, apprenticing, or working on farms around the U.S. and abroad.
“I studied sustainable food and farming at the University of Montana and did educational internships, but the most significant lessons I’ve learned about farming have been from making mistakes in the field,” she says. “I am still learning to farm!”
GROWING IN THE CITY
Farming is difficult enough, but farming in a city poses additional challenges. In Bellingham, accessing affordable land with decent soil is a big one. “There’s not a lot of available farmable land in the city,” Duncan says.
In 2018, Duncan and Young learned that Kulshan Community Land Trust was interested in supporting an agricultural project on a plot of land in Birchwood. The two jumped on the opportunity. Like this, their farm, City Sprouts, was born.
Finding the farm was one thing, but managing the land has been another. “Our site was abandoned for years and was completely overtaken with Himalayan Blackberry. It has been challenging to keep back the encroaching weeds, restore the soil, and manage a productive vegetable farm simultaneously,” Duncan says.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
After plenty of hard work and community support, the Birchwood market is now in full swing. “We couldn’t have chosen a better neighborhood,” Duncan says. “We have felt so welcomed, supported, and encouraged by our fantastic neighbors.”
At the market, you’ll find produce from City Sprouts Farm as well as many other talented and creative growers in the community, including Wild Rye Farm, Owl Eye Farm, Pollen Folly, and Slanted Sun Farm. “This year we are really excited to sell berries from Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad, a worker-owned cooperative berry farm in Whatcom County,” Duncan says.
The Birchwood Farmers Market is open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through October at the corner of Birchwood and Northwest Avenues in Bellingham. The market will also appear at the last installment of the Birchwood International Market on Friday, September 27 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For additional dates and information, visit citysproutsfarm.com.
For more content like this, check out our Lifestyle section.