Photo depicting a Black- and female-presenting individual tending to tall tomato plants with tall stalks of green corn grow behind her.

Black Star Farmers Collaborate With Community at New Holly Market Garden

by Ronnie Estoque

On Saturday, Sept. 4, the grassroots-led Black Star Farmers (BSF) organized a volunteer-led garden day at the New Holly Rockery Community Garden and Market Garden. Since their inception last year at CHOP during the Black Lives Matter protests, BSF has been connecting to local gardens to help communities efficiently harvest their own produce and prepare beds for gardening.

“Ideally, the vision is for folks in this area to not only be helping but also be receiving the food from the garden,” Marcus Henderson of BSF said.

The New Holly Market Garden, officially established in 2005, is located at Holly Park Drive South and 40th Avenue South. Food that is grown in the garden is intended to “sell onsite or offsite at a store, stand, farmers market, or restaurants.” The New Holly farm stands also accept EBT and fresh bucks, which can provide low-income community members access to fresh, locally grown produce.

During the weekend event, volunteers helped prepare various beds with soil to get the space ready to grow food next year. A woodchip mix was added to the pathways to make them easier for community members to walk through. Henderson hopes that the space can be more welcoming for local community members that may want to learn more about gardening or share their skills if they are already experienced gardeners.

“Particularly women in this community know how to grow their own food — they just aren’t given the access, or there’s a language barrier where they’re not able to communicate and ask for what they need,” Henderson said. “The knowledge is already there; it’s about just a matter of opening the door for it. And I think that’s what we’re looking for, ideally, is for these community members to be showing up to help.”

Enat Amare (left) uses a shovel to lay down woodchips to help level the pathway. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Henderson moved to Seattle a couple of years ago and is originally from New York City. He spent some time traveling to various countries where he learned more about gardening techniques in various climates. He is inspired to empower the community to take ownership of their own production of food wherever possible. Constantly willing to learn from others, Henderson has also been inspired by local New Holly community members, such as Enat Amare, who have been gardening in the neighborhood for decades.

One of the main organizers behind Saturday’s volunteer-led event was Moyo Tornai of BSF. She joined BSF last year during its inception and is excited by the opportunity to serve BIPOC communities in Seattle. 

“This particular garden has been a market garden through the P-Patch programs since the ’90s,” Tornai explained. “It’s operated both as a CSA and a market garden. But a third of it is P-Patch gardens that are stewarded by people that live in the area.”

According to Tornai, about half of the garden that is active has been maintained by a local community member named Mr. Kim, who has lived in the area for nearly 17 years. The remainder of the space has been designated for other community members and organizations, such as The Beet Box and youth organizations like Creative Justice. Twelve of the garden plots, which are each 300 square feet, are being stewarded by BSF.

“We want to grow food for community here. And we want to make it culturally relevant and really accessible,” Tornai said regarding crops such as corn, potatoes, and squash. She is inspired by local Asian gardeners that have brought certain non-native plants to Seattle and acclimated them to the PNW climate.

“We [BSF] want to see if we can grow culturally appropriate food for the East African residents as well as all BIPOC,” Tornai said.

BSF is planning on eventually elevating at least two of the garden beds as accessible plots so that community members who utilize wheelchairs can also garden and be integrated into the space. 

“Behind this event is accessibility. The pathways themselves have been really unleveled and we’ve had community members who have expressed wanting the place to be more accessible and safer,” Henderson said of Saturday’s event.

Tornai hopes that BSF can continue to meet and connect with local community gardeners that have lived in the area for years and help connect them to resources that BSF has available to support in increasing food production for the community. 

Local New Holly resident Enat Amare plants a new crop in her garden bed. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Henderson believes that funding to promote gardening opportunities for BIPOC communities in Seattle is not necessarily the highest priority for the local government, but he hopes that with more community involvement that can change. Currently, BSF is in the capacity-building process, but they are looking to provide more opportunities for community members to get involved and receive stipends for their gardening efforts.

“We hope to grow by hiring members from the community, looking for people like translators, trying to find people who just have the knowledge and skills and put them in positions of power and equity,” Henderson said.

BSF also plans on flyering throughout the New Holly neighborhood to increase involvement in the upcoming months.

“We’re looking to continue to just get deeper into this community and find ways to get folks right here,” Henderson said.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Local New Holly resident Enat Amare tends to her tomatoes. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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