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A Call to Pitchforks: Portland Urban Farming 2009

Meet farmers that are changing Portland's urban landscape as they grow food in all kinds of places. Learn about their methods, philosophies & where we're going with urban farming. Q & A discussion panel with farmers, land-lenders, CSA subscribers, community organizers, and other working to create an urban foodshed in the City of Roses.
Farmer K on tractor in suburban Milwaukie
Farmer K on tractor in suburban Milwaukie
If you want to:
* become more independent in your food choices
* get more involved with local food
* find out what's happening with urban farming

Wednesday, February 18, 5:30-7:30 pm
People's Food Co-op Community Room
3029 SE 21st (1 blk north of Powell)

Free admission

for more info:  puf2009@calliopes-table.com

A Call to Pitchforks
by Farmer K

Like mushrooms after a rain, new urban farming efforts are popping up all over Portland. How appropriate in a bioregion well-known for its fungal fecundity! Yet the emerging activities are not limited to the City of Roses, nor even Cascadia. I have heard of or from other urban farmers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Bisbee, New Orleans' 9th Ward, Philly, and Detroit. In this last city -- experiencing an urban collapse decades old that foreshadows the fates of other metropolises -- folks have been planting in empty lots for years. And in other parts of the world, outside the U.S., urban farming is and has been a part of the urban fabric from time out of memory. In "less developed" nations, people grow where they can, and move it around as they're able, by bicycle or rickshaw or mule. But being industrialized is no excuse for not farming: In Japan, mini-farms dot the cityscape, and brocolli and greens and melons share mainstreet footage with cafes and stores and train stations. Many have already heard of the example of Havana, Cuba, where at least 50% of the vegetable and fruit produce for the city is grown within the city limits.

Here in Portland, we have a rare and delightful climate for food growing. Even though summer classics such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants can be tricky here (and even zukes, cukes, and snapbeans in a mild summer like 2008's) it's more than made up for by the ability to pick fresh produce year-round. Our lack of hard-freezing here means we can pull up carrots in January, and see brassicas germinating in February. It also means we have more slugs, but as someone farming, I will take these slimy, slow-moving, beer-loving creatures over the grasshoppers, cutworms, and bean beetles of the Midwest any day!

I have been growing vegetables in the city only since 2004, starting with three dozen five-gallon buckets on a sunny porch. Going into 2009, the Sunroot Gardens enterprise I started has gained access to over 30 plots around Southeast, totalling just over an acre altogether, for planting fruits and veggies. This is besides the nearly 4 acres being used for growing staple crops. A two-acre chunk of this is the only plot outside the urban growth boundary, and is the sole real estate where money is being paid for a lease. The vegetable and fruit cultivation in the city is happening in backyards, sideyards, frontyards, "empty" lots, and along "unimproved" roads.

Sunroot Gardens has put the lie to the claim that one must own land to farm. No, you don't. If that's the only thing holding you back from investing yourself in agriculture, then you have no excuse. And here in Portland, many other folks are doing the same thing. There's plenty of open land to go around for those interested in growing on it. Whether there is enough land to feed the people in this city is a question. Personally, I have no confidence that it is (or is not).

I am planning to be on the panel at the Portland Urban Farming 2009 event at People's on Wed., Feb. 18th, to share my experiences with Sunroot Gardens. Other folks involved directly with their own agricultural efforts will also be there, and co-operation has already been occuring among us. This is a truly grassroots thing happening here. That is, grass roots are being replaced by carrot, kale, pea, pumpkin, and quinoa roots. As much as possible, as quickly as can be done, here at the edges of a crumbling empire. This scenario -- of community relocalization in the space opened by the disintegration of governmental centralization -- has played out countless times before with varying details. We are nothing special.

Dan & Martin up at City Garden Farms, another urban CSA taking advantage of houselots, put it this way: "The more we grow, the less you mow." Hallelujah!


A note to portland indymedia editors:
Please do not compost this as advertising. Yes it is true that I and other people involved in this event are *technically* involved with "for profit" businesses. However, my own farm budget pays me just $200/month. Much of that has in actuality been spent on other budget items that went overbudget, though -- such as seeds, amendments, etc. I am "profitting" MUCH LESS than anyone working full time at any 501(c3) "non-profit". That designation, dear editors, was created so the government and powers-that-be could swallow whole and control legitimate social movements. You know this. The non-US indymedias certainly do! (Ford Foundation grant, anyone?)

The effort to grow food in the cities is vital to human survival at this point in history. People are going to organize in many different ways. The old definitions of "profit" and "non-profit" are going out the window. Put in political/community organizing terms, this event at the Co-op on Feb. 18th offers openings to some very real, effective, and groundbreaking <chuckle> ways for many people to get involved with urban agriculture, and to empower themselves in any profit/non-profit/prophetic way they wish.


homepage: homepage: http://www.trashfactory.net/sunrootgardens

Interview Audio 16.Feb.2009 16:13