Laura McLeod
The Soliton is one of two boats that will be bringing Ballardites farm-fresh produce through sail power.

Green My Ballard: Sailing the seas for local food

Put sailing together with food and you’ve got my attention.

A new but enthusiastic sailor, I’ve been a proponent of fresh food since a long-ago college nutrition class and an advocate for local farms – and preferably organic – since reading “Fast Food Nation” (which, if you haven’t ever read, I highly recommend).

The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico makes an even more compelling argument for reducing our food miles and using alternative propulsion for transporting our food.

The new Salish Sea Trading Cooperative (SSTC) moves garden-fresh, farmer-grown, nonpetrol-powered food to Ballard’s Shilshole Bay from the peninsula by way of sail transport.

Transporting food across Puget Sound by sail power began last year as the brainchild of Dave Reid, who started the Sail Transport Company. When he had to step back, co-collaborators Fulvio Casali, Alex Tokar and Kathy Pelish stepped up to form a cooperative.

SSTC will make their first delivery of fresh spinach, arugula, radishes, berries and more from Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim this weekend on Fulvio’s 34-foot sloop, Soliton, and Vic Opperman’s 28-foot Moon Dog. Other farms will partner later in the season.

Set up as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, customers must reserve their box of fresh products three days in advance by sending an email message to the co-op (payment is collected on pick up).

Unlike some CSA programs, customers aren’t asked to sign up and prepay for a whole season, although making a commitment to consistent purchases will go a long way to ensure we have fresh produce using fewer nonrenewable resources.

“Oil is a declining resource," said Kathy. "We’re reawakening to the dangers of relying on it so heavily, whether it’s used for transportation or to make fertilizers for our farms."

“Renewables can help, but ultimately our lives are going to be a lot more local,” she continued. “What we buy, what we manufacture, how we move goods, where our food comes from… we’ll transition to greater dependence on our local communities and nearby resources.”

The biweekly boxes are just $40 (half boxes are $25) and include, dare I say it, a boatload of awesome things to eat. For each delivery, a local chef creates a recipe based on some of the current available products. Last year, contributions came from Ballard-based Ray’s, Portage Bay Café, Picolino’s, Bastille, Wallingford-based Tilth and more

Kathy’s new bright green electric truck will deliver the goods to Aster Coffee on Northwest 57th Street and 24th Avenue Northwest for pick up on designated Sundays.

Deliveries are currently scheduled every two weeks through October, but more frequent deliveries may be scheduled as resources become available and more people get involved.

Oh – and mentioning this means less for me but more for the co-op, so I will, even though I’d like to keep it a secret – they have some of the best honey on the planet. I’m not sure what Buck Hollow Farms does to get their bees to produce this stuff, but I’ve yet to sample any better. And it’s reasonable for what you get.

SSTC takes its name from the recently designated inland waterway encompassing Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia.

Considered an “ecoregion,” the combined Salish Sea waterways were a trade route for Coast Salish indigenous Americans and Canadians for centuries.

This group intends to re-establish sustainable trade routes, and would like to bring needed resources to their partnering communities, such as biodiesel to Port Townsend – an ideal they’d like to fulfill this year but recognize it may take longer.

“Part of what we’re building is a freely shared model that hopefully, over time, can be replicated by one or more of the sustainability groups or the Transition Town movement,” Kathy said. “We’re so lucky here – the farms in our state are accessible, diverse and fertile, and many are managed by committed, organic farmers.”

The cooperative is a true grassroots community venture, and the founding trio are looking for more community involvement, from shore-based volunteers and sailing crew to boat owners (boats 28 feet or longer) who can make the three-day trip.

A recent social event brought together a few eager participants, but more are needed, especially those with sailing experience who are available on the occasional Friday. Trips average about 25 hours under sail power; a strict policy mandates limited – if any – engine use.

A bit about the crew:

  • Fulvio, a software engineer, grew his sea legs in the Italian navy and was a dedicated volunteer last year for many of the voyages.
  • Kathy, who also works in the tech industry, grew up on the lakes, rivers and shores of New Jersey and recently took sailing lessons through Windworks at Shilshole.
  • Alex, who has just a year of sailing behind him, pioneered another cooperative, Web Collective, a web-design firm that uses Open Source tools.

All are advocates of more self-sufficiency and are actively involved in Sustainable Ballard or BALLE. Together, they’re committed to making lasting change, one tack or jibe at a time.

Interested in getting involved? Send them a message at

As energy derived from oil becomes more scarce and spills like those in the Gulf become more damaging, sail transport makes a lot of sense as a creative way to keep it green and local.

Laura McLeod is a Ballard native who returned 12 years ago. She has a community garden in her yard that was a family garden for more than a century. She's a passionate advocate for sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, gardening, conscious consumption and cultural difference.

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Great article, I'd heard

Great article, I'd heard about this! Also Cape Clear salmon folks at Ballard Farmer's Market in the winter months actually bring their fish via bicycle...they tow it in a little trailer and ride down from Port Townsend....hard core!

Keep up the great work Laura!