Island activist wins award for his decades of work on sustainable agriculture

Mark Musick, known throughout the region for his lifelong commitment to sustainable agriculture and the development of markets for locally grown, organic food, received the Seattle Weekly’s first-ever “sustainability award.”

According to Jonathan Kauff-man, the Weekly’s food editor, it took the judges “about 30 seconds to pick Mark.”

“Everyone involved with the awards had worked with Mark in one way or another or had certainly felt his impact in the sustainable food community,” he said.

Noting that it’s usually celebrity chefs who are recognized, Kauffman added, “It’s rare that we get to honor someone who puts together the networks that we all benefit from.”

Musick, an Islander, has been working on what he calls “the hard work of growing food and developing local markets” for most of his adult life. Indeed, he was at the forefront of the movement, helping to found Tilth in 1974, now a thriving network promoting organic farming throughout the region and the first third-party certifier of organic production.

A few years later, he began working for Pragtree Farm in Arlington, a pioneer organic farm, where he helped to develop and market what some believe was the nation’s first salad made entirely of wild and cultivated greens and edible flowers.

He later brought what became known as “the Seattle Salad” into the mainstream, after he was hired by the upscale grocery store chain Larry’s Market to showcase it and other local and regional products.

Musick went on to become Pike Place Market’s farm program manager from 1997 to 2002, where he started the market’s community-supported agriculture program and its popular “Organic Wednesdays.” He has also written extensively about sustainable agriculture, organized forums and undertaken other efforts that have helped to build what is today a robust network of small-scale organic farmers.

Those who know Musick and his contributions say they’re pleased that he’s been selected for the honor.

“This is a huge recognition of his life of service, new ideas and inspiration which have been pivotal to moving small-scale organic farming from a fringe activity to the fastest growing sector in agriculture,” Karen Kinney, the former manager of Vashon’s Farmers Market who now works for King County’s agriculture program, said in an e-mail.

Jo Robinson, one of the four judges for the Seattle Weekly contest, said she was thrilled to be able to choose Musick for the honor, what she called “a lifetime achievement award” for his pioneering work in the field.

“He above all the other nominees has really committed his life to sustainable agriculture and environmental alternatives,” she said. “A lot of us have visions. He’s had a sustained vision for so long that he’s helped to create a community dedicated to it.”

Robinson, an Islander, has star status of her own in the sustainable agricultural world. She’s the author of “Pasture Perfect,” a book that extols the benefits of eating meat, eggs and dairy products from pasture-raised animals.

Musick, 60, said what pleases him most about the award is that it underscores the place that sustainable, small-scale agriculture now has in the region.

“What we were doing at the periphery is now at the center of the plate. That’s rewarding to me,” he said. “It’s a reflection of this growing, maturing movement.”

He also said his work is deeply rooted in a community of sustainable agriculture advocates, a community that he’s been happy to be part of.

“It’s only been in the last few years that people have been really waking up to an appreciation for the work that thousands of people in the region have been doing for many years,” he said.

The Weekly’s award was one of three it handed out last week. The other awards included the Pellegrini Award, named after Angelo Pellegrini, an Italian immigrant who taught English at the University of Washington and became a well-known food critic beloved for his advocacy of what he called “the good life.” Kauffman also selected Elemental@Gasworks as winner of what the paper called “the Innovation Award.”

This is the paper’s second Pellegrinni Award but the first time it’s issued a sustainability award, Kauffman said.

“Sustainability ... is one of the aspects of Seattle’s food scene that really defines its character,” he said.

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