Tilth’s Annual Edible Plant Sale Goes Digital and Comes to Rainier Beach

by Jack Russillo

Springtime means the busiest time of the year for gardeners everywhere and, even during the COVID-19 crisis, the Tilth Alliance is doing all it can to help supply plants to Seattle-area residents.

This year, the effects of the pandemic have forced Tilth to move its annual edible plant sale online, requiring pickups out of its South Seattle base of operations, the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands (5513 South Cloverdale St.), just north of Be’er Sheva Park. The plant sale’s pickup and distribution storefront will be open from 7 p.m. Friday, May 1, until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, or until all products sell out. 

The plant sale, hosted at Meridian Park in Wallingford the past 25 years, usually attracts around 4,000 people on a weekend. But this year’s event in South Seattle will be limited to only 20 customers per hour given a designated time to arrive, claim online orders, and pay. While Sam Osborne, the Tilth Alliance’s Director of Development, said that the event will miss the social interactions that come with the in-person sale, he is looking forward to people from across the city being exposed to an area of town unfamiliar to many of them.

“Those of us in the South End were really excited to have it based here,” said Osborne, a Rainier Beach resident since 2007. “We hope that we can connect with a whole new community of South End gardeners, maybe some who never wanted to make the trek up to Wallingford in years past … The need is huge here, the demand is huge, and we also want the community to know more about what we’re doing down here or that we’re even down there doing what we do.”

Similar to past sales, this year’s will have around 70,000 plant starts available. From edible flowers and pollinator plants to yarrow and hops to squash, and more than 80 varieties of tomatoes — all of the plants for sale are organically grown by Washington farms, ranging from Bellingham to Carnation to Onalaska. Tilth books and merchandise, locally-made planter pots, and organic Cedar Grove potting soil and compost will also be available when customers arrive for order pickups.

Tilth will only be accepting online orders, where customers can choose from a selection of pick-up times to claim their plants. In addition to card transactions, Tilth will be accepting EBT as a payment option and, although cash will be accepted, it is strongly discouraged.

Deliveries will be available, for an added fee, for orders of $50 or more within the city of Seattle and to select regions north toward Edmonds and south toward Kent. 

Apart from the plant sale, the COVID-19 fallout has impacted other Tilth programs. Tilth’s classes have moved online and its Good Food Bag program, where members can collect half-priced bags of organic, nutrient-dense seasonal produce, has more than doubled from about 400 to 500 food bags per week to more than 1,000 since the pandemic began.

Additionally, the Tilth Alliance will kick off multiple new programs in the near future based out of the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands. Beginning June 18, a pay-what-you-can farm stand will be open every Thursday afternoon, as well as a new community-supported agriculture subscription program allowing people to buy food directly from local farmers. It will also host pick-your-own days, where anyone can come and pick up to $20 worth of organic produce that is grown at the farm, no questions asked. Tilth’s free garden garden hotline is also operating as usual.

The Tilth Alliance says it is waiting for developments with Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order before finalizing its summer plans, but intends on moving forward however it can. From hosting its annual plant sale on a digital platform, and in a different part of the city, to increasing the capacity of some of its most valued programs, Tilth is navigating the pandemic to continue its mission of connecting farmers, gardeners, and eaters for a more sustainable, healthy, and equitable future. Getting there is just taking a little extra innovation.

Jack Russillo is a journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image: Jack Russillo