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Black-led farming program in Seattle is being asked to uproot

caption: Nyema Clark, urban farmer and founder of Nurturing Roots, feeds chickens on Sunday, September 27, 2020, at Nurturing Roots in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
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Nyema Clark, urban farmer and founder of Nurturing Roots, feeds chickens on Sunday, September 27, 2020, at Nurturing Roots in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Nurturing Roots is a Black-led community farm based in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. It started in 2016. Now it’s being asked to leave the land they’re on by the end of the month.

Nurturing Roots is a group that’s often urged city leaders to put more land in the hands of Black farmers. Nyema Clark founded the farm, where she says they hold regular volunteer days and educational programs. The farm also provided food for people during the pandemic.

“Nurturing roots really succeeded because of community because of the bodies that showed up. And because of the hard work that was put in,” she said.

RELATED: What Black liberation looks like — 40 acres in Auburn

Nurturing Roots sits on land that’s leased out to the program by the Bethany United Church of Christ. The church says the lease isn’t being renewed because the farm didn’t give them enough notice to continue their contract before it expired. They say three other nonprofits that previously co-signed with Nurturing Roots have also declined to renew their lease with the farm. The letter to vacate says Nurturing Roots needed to give a heads up 90 days before the current lease expires.

Clark says she wants to stay.

In previous years, she says the process was much more informal and was settled often with verbal agreements. A signed lease was sometimes made months after the old one expired. Over a five year period the Church says they’ve rented the land to the program at a reduced rate. Their estimates put it at a little over 300 hundred thousand dollars that they’ve subsidized for the farm program.

Clark had previously offered to buy the land from the church with a city grant multiple times, but was told it’s not for sale.

In an email to KUOW the church wrote, “We have put a tremendous amount of effort into helping Nurturing Roots. Church and community leaders we partner with have indicated, in good faith, they are willing to help Nurturing Roots find land to purchase.”

The church said it has a need for space, adding it is “in need of our church buildings and property as we expand our youth and adult ministries." The church notes it has a diverse population in its congregation.

A few years ago Clark was in talks with the Seattle Mayor Jenny Dukan, and other community leaders, to manage about 40 acres of farmland the city owns in Auburn, currently known as Red Barn Ranch. That effort has all but slowed down as new leadership has moved in. Clark says talks have begun again with the city of Seattle.

A spokesperson for the city's Parks and Recreation Department says the conversation about what will happen at Red Barn Ranch is ongoing, but wouldn't give more details.

“Any proposed use of the property will focus on closing nature deficits for underserved communities with a focus on community collaboration and partnerships to realize the mayor’s commitment to ensuring youth have more access to nature, health and wellness,” Seattle's Parks and Recreation Department said.

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