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Weeds used to grow there. Now, a new greenhouse at this farm could raise more than food

York Community Farm founder Mary Loquvam, right, and intern Gregory Irons prepare materials for compost at the farm in Bellingham in 2016.
York Community Farm founder Mary Loquvam, right, and intern Gregory Irons prepare materials for compost at the farm in Bellingham in 2016. The Bellingham Herald file

A small urban farm in the York Neighborhood is raising money so it can extend its growing season and do more good.

York Community Farm is entering its sixth season, and has reached its fundraising goal of $8,000 for a greenhouse so produce can be grown year-round.

That, in turn, will allow the nonprofit to take on more disabled veterans, homeless and people recently released from jail or prison — employing them part-time through internship programs that pay them $15 an hour, according to Mary Loquvam, the farm's founder.

The project transformed a triangular piece of vacant state-owned land that had been a magnet for litter, blackberries and thigh-high weeds into a community farm.

It sits on a three-quarter-acre parcel on James Street between Potter and Gladstone streets, against the west side of Interstate 5, right up against a concrete sound wall decorated with the outlines of trees.

Launched in 2013 by a group of neighbors to address hunger and poverty, the farm is home to an orchard and focuses on raising winter crops such as dry beans, potatoes and winter squash. It also grows broccoli, cucumber, kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes.

It has given away hundreds of pounds of food over time, and has awarded 27 internships valued at $40,500. The greenhouse will allow the program to do more.

"We will be able to double the people that we hire," Loquvam said.

The greenhouse, which will be 20 feet by 36 feet, also will house the farm's aquaponics pilot project.

Aquaponics is soil-free agriculture that includes fish grown in tanks. The water from the nutrient-rich tanks is pumped to vegetables growing above or beside the tanks, essentially bathing the roots. The clean water is then returned to the fish.

"It's a closed-loop system," she said. "It mimics nature."

Aquaponics has greater per acre yields and uses 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture because plants aren't grown in dirt and the water is recirculated, according to Loquvam.

Designed in partnership with Engineers Without Borders and Western Washington University's Engineering Department, the solar-powered aquaponics system is part of a larger goal of creating living-wage jobs in that industry for the group of people the farm already works with, people who otherwise struggle to find employment.

"To put people to work," Loquvam said, "we have to have work."

She hoped to put in the greenhouse and aquaponics system in mid-May or June.

To help

Find the York Community Farm's campaign on Kickstarter by going to kickstarter.com and typing "York Community Farm" into the search window.

The fundraiser ends May 13. Donations are tax-deductible.

Although the farm has reached its goal of $8,000 for a greenhouse, additional money that's donated can be used for other parts of the program.

Additional information about the York Community Farm is on its Facebook page.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea
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