Farmer Tom Willis stands in front of the Clean Greens farm, their arm resting on a bed of harvested greens.

The South End Guide to Reducing our Carbon Footprint: Plant-Based Eating

by Mark Van Streefkerk

Just a few weeks ago we sweated through the hottest June temperature in Seattle’s recorded history. Heat in the triple digits can be dangerous, especially for vulnerable populations and the unhoused. The heat wave prompted the City to coordinate cooling stations — including libraries, spray parks, and beaches — as June 28 climbed to a record 108 degrees, capping a three-day stretch of triple-digit temperatures. The heatwave also affected plenty of non-human life. In Vancouver, B.C., June’s heatwave led to the deaths of 1 billion sea animals. Such staggering numbers could mean dire consequences for ocean life and interdependent ecosystems. 

The main reason for Seattle’s increasingly warming temperatures (overall, Seattle has warmed by 2 degrees since 1900) is climate change. Climate change happens when greenhouse gasses trap heat and warm the planet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency: “Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the United States is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation.” 

A carbon footprint is a calculation of how much greenhouse gasses a person, or population, generates. You can calculate your own carbon footprint at The Nature Conservancy. (It’s super-interesting!) Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for decades, and although there is much to be done on a global scale to change the course of the climate crisis, the decisions we make in our everyday lives are some things we do have control over. 

The Emerald is exploring changes that South End residents can make to reduce our carbon footprint in a new series of articles. In this first installment, we’re looking at how eating low on the food chain is not only more sustainable for the planet, it also plays an important part in the health of our communities and food-justice movements. 

The Truth About Meat

Factory animal farming is one of the most environmentally unsustainable industries on the planet. According to the Guardian, “Deforestation to make way for livestock, along with methane emissions from cows and fertilizer use, creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all the world’s cars, trucks, and airplanes.” 

Diets high in meat, especially beef and processed meats, contribute to higher rates of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. These are the same health concerns that disproportionately affect Black communities. The good news is that a plant-based diet has been proven to significantly reduce those same health risks and at the same time requires less energy to produce, meaning a lower carbon footprint. 

Plant-Based Living 

Keith Tucker founded Hip Hop Is Green around 2008 to promote the benefits of plant-based diets through hip-hop. Tucker grew up in the Central District and has also lived in the South End. Hip Hop Is Green got its start by serving plant-based meals to youth and families. From their first dinner, they “went around the whole nation, serving plant-based meals for free to youth and families for over seven years. We served over 10,000 meals throughout the nation,” Tucker said. 

Hip Hop Is Green now has chapters in major cities across the nation. The organization was gearing up to have their biggest event ever at the Seattle Center before the pandemic canceled large gatherings. The forced hiatus of events led to a decision to overhaul their Cherry Street Farm at 1911 East Cherry Street. “We’re totally converting what we were previously doing into hydroponic farming,” Tucker said. “You can’t have acres of land in an urban area. In order to maximize the space we have, we’re growing hydroponically.” 

The converted garden will feature a teaching area to educate youth on how to grow vegetables. 

“Going plant-based is a very good way to not only bring health and wealth to your community, but also — climate change is affecting the whole world. We can see it here in our summers,” Tucker said. “If we start to educate young people on these facts and teach them how to be plant-based and teach them how to grow their own food, that will be a great start.”

You can help Hip Hop Is Green by volunteering. They also have some paid internship positions available for youth. Get in touch through their website or Instagram

Increasing Access to Locally-Grown Produce

Going plant-based sounds good on paper, but what does that practice actually look like in a food desert? Communities in the South End are traditionally underserved, especially when it comes to healthy food. It’s an issue of food justice and empowerment that goes beyond just individual health. Clean Greens Farm & Market was founded in 2007 by Project of Black Dollar Days Task Force — a group of local African American business owners — to create access to locally-grown produce and offer education around farming and healthy eating. Clean Greens leases a 21-acre farm in Duvall, stewarded by head farmer Tom Willis. The farm provides organic vegetables to low-income communities in Seattle.

Clean Greens is so much more than a farm. Signing up for a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) subscription (paying up front for 16 weeks of produce boxes) helps provide fresh vegetables to other families in need. The farm also has a youth education program in partnership with the Black Farmers Collective, where kids can build their own planters and learn about growing vegetables in addition to food justice. Clean Greens also has a show on Rainier Avenue Radio where they talk about farming and much more. “We can go from talking about health to talking about reparations,” said Brione Scott, Clean Greens’ director. “Clean Greens is all about educating our community … because, you know, they don’t teach us this stuff in school.”

In bringing fresh vegetables to the community, the team of mostly volunteers found that some households didn’t know how to cook some vegetables. So, Clean Greens started to give out recipes and this year launched a newsletter that includes recipes and facts about the vegetables offered. “In the last issue we had kohlrabi. A lot of people didn’t know what it was or how to cook it. We added a recipe. We added the health benefits and the different ways they can cook it,” Scott said. 

Right now, produce grown by the Clean Greens farm includes collard greens, chard, broccoli, cabbage, squash, carrots, romanesco, and more. They distribute CSA boxes and vegetables every Saturday and Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of New Hope Baptist Church at 116 21st Avenue. A distribution site in South Seattle is currently in the works.

Sign up for the Clean Greens newsletter for recipes and more through their website, or email directly. Clean Greens is always accepting new volunteers. 

Recent years have seen more Black-owned farms spring up like the Black Farmers Collective, and Nurturing Roots. Within the last year, Black Star Farmers has reclaimed urban spaces for community farms. Scott is encouraged by the increase in BIPOC-operated farms and food projects. “I feel like everyone is becoming more aware of the food injustice for People of Color. Everywhere I turn, there’s more and more conversations about it and how we gain access and how we promote it,” she said. 

Another organization working to get fresh produce into the hands of low income communities is Plant Based Food Share, led by chef, herbalist, and activist Ariel Bangs. Launched in mid-March of last year, the volunteer-run team distributes boxes of produce and other offerings like pantry staples, vegetable starts, sanitizer, and sometimes pre-made food items. Sign up for a free food box, or find out how you can volunteer or donate here

Action Steps

Thankfully, plant-based living is a growing arm of activism for South End communities, and it  leads to reduced carbon footprints. Growing or buying produce locally eliminates the need for it to be shipped in from other states, further reducing the fossil fuels needed to bring food to us. Here’s a few more tips on moving towards a plant-based lifestyle: 

  • One of the biggest misconceptions about a plant-based diet is that you have to suddenly go 100% all-in. Not true! Living plant-based, or plant-forward, means making fruits and vegetables the main, or common, building blocks of your meals and snacks. 
  • Reduce the amount of meat you consume, especially beef, the biggest generator of greenhouse gasses. Ideas like “Meatless Mondays” are a great place to start. For a quick swap: make a veggie burger substitute. (This vegetarian classic has many iterations, from “old school” black bean burgers to today’s Beyond Beef or Impossible Burgers.) Consider making one or two of your meals meatless most days.
  • Support a local, BIPOC-owned/operated farm with a one-time or ongoing donation, or volunteer. 

This climate change series is made possible with support from Nia Tero.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

📸 Featured Image: Farmer Tom Willis stands in front of the Clean Greens farm in Duvall. (Photo: Janelle Bighinatti)

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