Olympia's Urban Farm Park ‘conditionally’ feasible

Looking at new staff position for urban agriculture work, urban farm needs prioritization, funding, planning and partnerships cited as necessary to advance the project


Urban farming parks are "conditionally" feasible in Olympia, according to a recent study that explored the potential of developing an urban farm park within the city to support local food production and agriculture.

At Tuesday's Olympia City Council study session, Director of Parks Planning and Maintenance Sylvana Niehauser presented the recently completed Urban Farm Park feasibility study. She was joined by consultant Craig Skipton, AHBL director of Landscape Architecture, who led the feasibility research and community engagement process.

While the concept received community support, Skipton said fully developing a park at this time is not feasible due to challenges like prioritizing projects, staff capacity, and funding constraints. "But we are also saying that it is conditionally feasible if these conditions are met."

Among the conditions Skipton enumerated include:

  • Skipton said finding a way to include the Urban Farm Park concept in future park planning conversations would be an important first step to addressing feasibility.
  • Identify funding
  • Identify location
  • Secure farm operating partnership
  • Master planning
  • Phasing development

The consultant team conducted their research by gathering community input. He explained that they held a stakeholder workshop to understand the perspective of those working in local agriculture. They also did individual interviews.

Through these inputs, common themes emerged around education, land access, and culturally appropriate foods. Skipton said these helped inform further concept refinement.

More than 200 people participated in an online survey, which provided additional insights such as farmer training, youth education, and considering climate adaptation and resiliency emerged as top priorities for the Urban Farm Park concept and design.

Skipton noted amenities like incubator farms, community gardens, demonstration gardens, and a commissary kitchen were "highly rated" based on survey responses.

Skipton highlighted potential locations for an urban farm park that were identified through a Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis. He said the analysis considered factors like agricultural soil quality, proximity to utilities, and access to bus routes. The potential locations are the northwest area, northeast near Bigelow Lake, and along the Bay Road corridor. Additional potential spots were identified south, like the Grass Lake area, the Trillium/watershed area, and the southeast areas.

Consultant Craig Skipton from HBL Landscape Architecture presents potentially suitable sites for urban farm parks.
Consultant Craig Skipton from HBL Landscape Architecture presents potentially suitable sites for urban farm parks.

He emphasized that these locations ranked highly and warranted further investigation as suitable sites for an urban farm park.

The consultant provided examples of urban farm park scale options:

  • Small – between three to five acres that can fit in many locations throughout the city. Some of the major amenities for this option are event space (or covered outdoor event space), a tool shed, and garden beds. The small-scale option costs approximately $2 million to $3 million.
  • Medium scale – between six to 10 acres, with expanded amenities such as kitchen space for food preparation and preservation activities. It has larger garden plots that accommodate both raised beds and more traditional in-ground farming techniques and additional event and gathering space to support the larger scale of activities. The cost is approximately $3 million to $15 million.
  • Large scale – with 10 acres or more that has a more comprehensive set of facilities. These included two miles of multi-use paths to enhance access and recreation, a kitchen, an indoor/outdoor event space, a garden, and an incubator farm. The cost is approximately $15 million to $30 million.

Niehauser acknowledged the city's budget challenges for 2025. Still, she proposed to fund a new staff position dedicated to supporting urban agriculture work. She said the various projects the Parks has undertaken have stretched its staff capacity.

Looking at new staff position for urban agriculture work

"We will be putting forward a funding request for staff position that would then be able to support the body around urban agriculture work," Niehauser said, adding that a focused position could help move initiatives like the farm park concept forward.

City Manager Jay Burney supported the proposal to fund a new staff position.

Councilmember Lisa Parshley suggested exploring partnerships to leverage additional grants and funding sources for the urban farm park project. She cited the Thurston Strong program, which partners with organizations to promote economic development through access to different types of grants.

The council member suggested that forming collaborative relationships could open doors to grant opportunities. This approach could help leverage funding for the project by tapping into partners' available resources.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Callie

    Rat control. Build in a rat control plan.

    Thursday, March 28 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    The City could partner with The Evergreen State College. The College has an organic farm and decades of practice and knowledge. Partner with GRUB. Partner with the urban farm network in the county, Partner with the Port of Olympia to utilize county taxes and open areas.

    Thursday, March 28 Report this