In the winter of 2017, Annah Young and Ellie Duncan were looking for affordable (free) land in Bellingham to start an experimental farm project. They had both been working on vegetable farms for years and their joint enthusiasm gave them the boldness to start a farm of their own.
Ellie and Annah heard about some land in the Birchwood neighborhood that was available and went to check it out on a sunny December morning.
Their first impression was a bit underwhelming. Two abandoned buildings dominated the front of the property, and behind them, the “farm land” was an acre of chest-high Blackberry brambles and 7 foot tall stocks of poison hemlock.
Annah was intrepid as ever and pointed out a section of the field that was mostly grass.
So we started there.
In 2018 Annah and Ellie cleared ¼ acre of the property, removing blackberry brambles and root balls, adding compost and forming vegetable beds.
Two years before City Sprouts started, the only grocery store in the neighborhood had closed, making food access very difficult for much of the Birchwood community.
As a response, Annah and Ellie decided to start a cooperative farmers market stand in the neighborhood, collaborating with a few other farms in the area to bring fresh vegetables to the community each Sunday at an affordable price.
The next year, 2019, more blackberries were cleared and City Sprouts increased vegetable production space to ½ an acre.
In addition to the Birchwood Farmers Market, they also sold at the mid-week Bellingham Farmers Market, and grew 1000 pounds of beets for the the food bank.
In 2020 another ½ acre of land was cleared, making the farm a solid acre, started a sliding scale CSA, sold produce to some local restaurants and expanded the offerings at the Birchwood Market.
Since 2020 we have been cultivating 1 acre of organically grown vegetables on this previously abandoned field of blackberries. It has been incredibly rewarding to steward this piece of land and create a little farm ecosystem in the middle of a neighborhood. The support we have received from the community has been crucial to our success. The Community Food Co-op, The Bellingham Food Bank, the Twin Sisters Markets, Kulshan Community Land Trust and SeaMar Community Health Center have been essential partners and collaborators.
Since 2022 we began shifting our efforts to focus entirely on growing veggies for food access efforts and on broadening our impact in the community by offering educational opportunities to the next generation of farmers and food system leaders by offering small scale production farming internships through Western Washington University.
In 2023, Ellie began working as the farming and food systems program coordinator at the Center for Community Learning at Western Washington University. Through her work at Western, City Sprouts has become a vibrant educational space hosting opportunities for Western student employees, class visits, work study, and work parties and more.
Starting in 2024, City Sprouts officially became a program of WWU's Center for Community Learning. The support from Western as well as Kulshan Community Landtrust has allowed City Sprouts' mission of increasing food access and cultivating community vitality to continue and to be shared with a wider community.