Exploring Urban Agriculture in Portland, Oregon
Hello, my name is Andrew Heneghan, and I’m a new contributor with the Young Agrarians. I’m originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland later spending a considerable amount of time in Keene, New Hampshire, and Vancouver, British Columbia. A North American with international tendencies. I’m excited about Young Agrarians push to promote farming for young people in Canada. The cultivation of food is an art that transcends history, cultures, and continents and only recently has it been pushed to the fringes of our society. A change in our connection with food is ongoing as we speak, and gardens and farms are re-entering our towns and cities, bringing with them enthusiastic keepers of the land. I believe farming will be a viable opportunity for people looking for a meaningful role in our society, and I hope to be involved throughout my life.
Currently I’m in an urban farming apprentice in Portland, Oregon with Oregon State University Extension and Multnomah County. The program, known as BUFA (Beginning Urban Farm Apprenticeship), is a 9-month apprenticeship which focuses upon methods and practices related to intensive vegetable production. The majority of time is spent in the field managing two farms, the Learning Gardens Laboratory and CROPS. We spend one day per week at each farm and practice the techniques of starting seeds, greenhouse management, direct seeding, hand and power farm tools, weeding, irrigation, crop planning, harvesting, and more. In total we are in the field for approximately 16 hours per week tending to the incredible diversity of crops we are growing. The harvest is split amongst the students, the teachers, as well as sold at a local farmer’s market, and donated to Oregon’s largest food bank, Snowcap.
The in-the-field experience is supplemented by class time and field trips to local farms. Class topics are diverse and reinforce knowledge practiced in the field. Guest speakers are often called upon to inform us on their expertise such as integrated pest management and soil science. Often classes are accompanied by small assignments such as creating a crop plan and seed order for a small farm .The program finishes with a series of small farm business management classes and the creation of a plan for a farm related business.
Field trips have been a definite highlight of the program. We’ve been hosted by urban farms such as Zenger, Dancing Roots, and Cully who have introduced us to their history, management, and farming styles. Cully Urban Farm is run by a young farmer who received land from a local church that was excited to see unused land be cultivated for food. Dancing Roots is a beautiful 10-acre farm which sells community supported agriculture (CSA) shares and also supplies numerous Portland restaurants. Zenger Farm is a non-profit farm and wetland that offers “experiential learning opportunities for youth, farmers, and families in subject such as sustainable agriculture, wetland ecology, food security, healthy eating, and local economic development”.
We as students rotate on a weekly basis, selling food at the farmer’s market. This is a full day of work starting at sunrise for harvest. This early rise is necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the vegetables that would wilt if left in the sun for long. While in the past I’ve been better acquainted with arriving home at this wee hour, the early morning rise feels revitalizing and the calmness of the city at this hour inspires the imagination. We arrive at the market around 10 AM to set up our booth and prepare for a day of chit chat, educating folks, and selling produce. The Lent’s Farmer Market services a lower income, ethnically diverse population outside of the more affluent inner city.
One of the most interesting aspects of the farmer’s market is the exposure to the various methods Oregonians have stepped up to help low-income consumers access local produce. Many of Portland’s markets offer a dollar-for-dollar matching program (up to 10$) for food stamps recipients. In other words, if a market goer uses 10$ of their food stamps, they receive 20$ of tokens to spend on farm fresh food. Oregon’s Senior Farm Direct Nutrition Program (SFDNP) also has a program which provides additional support to senior citizens for local produce specifically. Oregon is taking nutrition and urban agriculture seriously.
The sites on which we farm are unique in climate, soil type, location, and history.The in-depth exposure to two sites has really driven home the importance of site selection when choosing a farm.
In the city we’re farming in Southeast Portland at a space called the Learning Gardens Laboratory (LGL). It’s a multi use 12 acre plot which provides “K-12, university students and community members hands-on and place-based education in sustainable gardening, healthy nutrition, and permaculture”. This site is a fairly easy bike commute for inner city folk, and has a more challenging soil structure and micro-climate than our CROPS site. I’ve been inspired by the multi-use nature of LGL with its fruit tree orchards, Chinese garden, flower garden, community garden, multiple farms, and permaculture site. I could see this style of educational urban farm and garden being replicated in cities around the globe as centers of experiential ecosystem education.
CROPS in Troutdale is a Multnomah County owned farm which is directly linked to Oregon’s largest food bank, Snowcap. This farm is significantly larger than LGL, and has an exceptional microclimate and soil for vegetable cultivation. The farm hosts volunteers on a regular basis, and also has a restitution garden that offers space for youth in trouble with the law to complete their community service hours through farming. The CROPS land has a 100 year agricultural history, formally serving as a state-run ‘poor farm’, providing space for low-income Oregonians to grow food.
BUFA has been an enlightening process for myself and the other apprentices. Growing food organically provides a reconnection to the realities of our natural surroundings. It requires the co-operation of the farmers, which in turn fosters unique relationships between individuals who cherish food and ecology. While this program is still in its infancy (year two) I feel that it is a good option for someone interested in an exposure to urban farming. I encourage anyone with questions regarding this program or any other apprenticeship, farm school, or work exchange to contact me. I think it is important that the new generation of farmers is well informed in the path we take to finding our inner farmer.
Thankyou to Jen Aron, Weston Miller, and Dan Bravin for leading the troops
For more information:
The BUFA program: http://web.multco.us/sustainability/bufa
Senior Farm Direct Nutrition Program:
Portland Farmer’s Markets: http://www.portlandfarmersmarket.org
Cully Neighborhood Farm:
The Learning Gardens Laboratory: http://pdx.edu/elp/learning-gardens-laboratory