So, a single company delivering boxes of vegetables on expensive boats that most people do not know how to sail is not going to change the world. But here at Sightline, we love documenting all the ingenious ways that Northwesterners move goods and people around without burning fossil fuels. Now here’s another low-carbon mode of transport—a Seattle company that delivers organic produce via sailboat and electric truck.
This story from sailing blog Three Sheets Northwest profiles the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative, which just started its seasonal deliveries of produce from Dharma Ridge Farm near Port Ludlow, WA to the Aster Coffee Lounge in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Customers can order a large or small box of organic produce—red lettuce, kale, snap peas, baby beets, garlic scapes so far—for delivery once every two weeks through October. This year, the company also plans to run some non-produce trips, sailing wool from alpaca farms on Whidbey Island and grain for local distilleries.
While it’s still a far cry from the Mosquito Fleet days, when everything from livestock to mail to eggs to timber was delivered by swarms of boats, interest in community-powered sail transport seems to be growing (albeit, still on a tiny scale). As this essay eloquently argues, smaller-scale, water-powered transport doesn’t require road or railway maintenance, many of the things needed to make a sailboat like wood and flax canvas are found in nature, and (while the cooperative’s boats do have backup engines in case of emergency) they’re powered by the wind and tides. Plus, author Dmitri Orlov writes, a sailboat is the perfect vehicle for uncertain times:
It can provide not only transportation, but housing and storage. It is a residence that does not require one to own land. It can serve as a floating workshop, kitchen, or clinic. It can help one flee from danger. It can make it possible to live on land that is prone to floods. It can be maintained with the help of basic skills, such as carpentry, spinning, and weaving, using materials available within the environment. It can carry all the tools needed to repair it or even reproduce it. In short, it is difficult to think of anything that would be more useful to have.
Around the Northwest, everyone from authors to food activists are rigging sailboats for unorthodox purposes. Olympia writer Jim Lynch did a book tour by sailboat last summer, cruising on his 1970 Bristol 32 to bookstores in the San Juan Islands to promote his novel Border Songs. Community development activists in Portland experimented with a combination of sail power and pedal power to feed participants at a 10-day conference.
The Salish Sea Trading Cooperative (which grew out of the earlier Sail Transport Company) is taking things a few steps further by promising regular sailboat deliveries. It’s a unique marriage of sustainable transport, community-supported agriculture and a passion for sailing, described here by owner Kathy Pelish:
From halyard to hoe, from binnacle to broccoli, what your Ballard neighbors are envisioning and working toward is a redrawn model of transport that also adapts to increasingly expensive fossil fuel energy resources and adds very little carbon to our planet.
In this shift they are not alone: last summer the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, proclaimed “Making better use of our rivers and coastal routes offers an intelligent way to relieve some of the biggest challenges we face in transportation – congestion on our roads, climate change, fossil fuel energy use and soaring road maintenance costs. There is no better time for us to improve the use of our rivers and coasts for transportation.” And also having an enormous amount of fun along the way!
Obviously, as the companies looking to ship coal to China through Northwest ports illustrate, massive amounts of goods are moved on waterways every day. But does anyone have other creative examples of carbon-free water-based transport to share?