Properties transformed from useless, water sucking, grass lawns to veggie-feeding food yards for the community! Between the snow and the rain when the weather turned to the 65 degree sunshine this week, a 2000 square foot of lawn was tilled, amended, and transformed , into seven, 4 x 50 ft rows for Mama Tee’s vegetables.
And the peas were the first to be planted here at the Parkrose Heights property. On the line up here for direct sow this week (weather dependent, of course): radishes, carrots, and beets.
The Brentwood-Darlington property moved forward as well this past week with a little help from some new and old friends. Thank you all! This property is getting raised beds in both the front and back yards. We took on the front lawn, removing sod, weeds, and black, plastic matting (which is a big pain, by the way). If you want to keep weeds out of your landscaping or flower bed, I recommend biodegradable burlap or cardboard sheet mulch, not the black plastic.
The seedlings are up and growing strong. In a few days I’ll be thinning the flats out and dibbling the Brassica’s. We also planted some tomato and basil seed this past weekend and they are living comfortably near my window sill in the warmth of my home. A second round of seeding, plus more summer weather vegetables (tomato and peppers) will be sown in the next couple weeks.
And, I’m happy to announce that the Cully property went through! I will be writing up a 2-3 year lease agreement with the landowner this week. This is a great piece of land that has been farmed in the past (the last landowner had a farm stand on the street). So the soil is already conditioned and, although there is plenty of preparation work before planting, there is no grass or sod to be removed! And this the largest urban property I am currently farming (~4000sf).
These three sites (plus the raspberries in Creston-Kenilworth) will keep me plenty busy this year and will be producing enough food for market and up to 10 CSA shares. However, I am still getting to know the area and the people and would like to spread the word about turning back yards into food yards to feed Portland (especially in areas where healthy food isn’t easily accessible). So, if you know of anyone with at least 2000 sf of area that might be good for vegetable growing please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I also continue the search for a larger piece of property to lease or buy to create a more permanent site for Mama Tee’s Farmstead. Unfortunately, the land in Oregon City is just not feasible at this time. But do not worry, a farmer’s best virtues are patience (most of time) and the ability to roll with the changes. Mama Tee’s Farmstead will get there. And, in the meantime, we’ll produce yummy, quality food in the food yards of the Portland community!
With three properties and one pending within the East Portland metro area, I am in the details of design and plan, all the while still gathering and preparing. Being a Sag, details are not my forte, but I am doing my best to become the detailed planner I know I can be. The propagation, sowing, and transplanting all need to be timed providing a variety of vegetables throughout the season. This means successional planting and planning as well. With 3 to 4 properties, this process is a bit tricky. Well, one property is designated for raspberries, so this leaves 2 to 3 properties and the bulk of the square footage. Combine both raised beds and rows and now you can visualize the somewhat complicated designing and planning process. Oh, and add soil and compost storage areas at, hopefully two of the properties as well.
For the Portlanders (or those in the surrounding area), the neighborhoods where Mama Tee’s produce will grow are Brentwood-Darlington, Creston-Kenilworth, and Parkrose Heights. The fourth, which is still pending, is in the Cully neighborhood. Please get in touch with me at email@example.com if you are interested in a CSA share for the season and I will send you more information. The first box of produce starts in late May and the season will run through October. Don’t know what a CSA is? Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a local model for the production and distribution of food. It’s a direct farmer to individual (eater) relationship, where the individual subscribes to the farm early in the season and then receives weekly or bi-weekly (depending on the terms of the subscription) shares or boxes of the vegetables and/or fruits (or meats, eggs, milk, etc., depending on what the farm produces) during the harvest season. They can also participate in member-only activities such as farm tours, discounted workshop prices, and end-of-the-season farm parties. This benefits the individual because they know exactly where and who their food comes from, they receive the freshest, local food available that hasn’t spent days in a truck at the bottom of a 50 lb crate, and they help their local economy and meet other members of the community. It benefits the farmer because the farmer receives support up front, early in the season when the costs are highest, can concentrate more on growing quality vegetables (food) during the season instead of marketing, and the farmer gets to know the community and individuals that eat their food on a personal basis. CSA farmers almost always (or should always) grow a variety of vegetables and use diversified farming methods which decrease risk of crop failure/s and is a strong sustainable model for good stewardship of the land as well. A win-win for everyone!
Mama Tee’s Farmstead will not only be offering a large variety of vegetables in this year’s CSA, but will also be offering fruit, fruit preserves, pickled vegetables, dried vegetables and fruits, and maybe even some sauerkraut! Several workshops are in the making, a collaborative Farm to Fork dinner with a meat CSA is being discussed, and, of course, an end-of-the-year bash on one of the properties can be expected.
Seeds of all the greens, lettuces, Brassica’s (Broccoli, Cauliflower, etc), peas, and some herbs were sown in the seed flats last Thursday and Friday! I planned to use just the commercial soil mix, but the experimenter in me is trying to spice it up a bit with some other ingredients to hopefully come up with a good Mama Tee’s starter soil mix for the future. I will also be selling starts in 6 packs and flats starting in April (this is separate from the CSA). Starting a garden? Contact me!
This week is a busy one. I’ll be taking on and taking out a lot of grass at the Parkrose Heights and Brentwood properties. Hand work and a push tiller will both be involved to prepare beds for the greens, lettuces, strawberries, carrots, radishes, peas, kale, chard, and cabbage. Whether or not the Cully property will be growing Mama Tee’s produce should be decided this week. Also, the website content is coming along and should see some movement in the next couple weeks. And, I continue to discuss with the landowners about the possibility of growing on the acre in Oregon City. The water infrastructure issue has been a slow process and I might only be able to grow, if any, a small amount of vegetables (1/3rd acre or less) on this property this year. Mainly due to the cost of putting in a large rainwater catchment infrastructure.
One last note: I had the pleasure of attending the OSU Small Farms Conference in Corvallis, OR this past weekend with 900 other farmers, food advocates and activists, chefs, farmer market’s managers, and others who care deeply about seeing the small, sustainable farm movement pick up speed. I met some lovely new people from the Portland area and throughout the state, absorbed a huge amount of information about farming in Oregon, got to ride down on a bus with several women farmers, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The keynote speaker, Kristin Kimball, a farmer and writer who owns a 500 hundred acre, draft horse-powered, 170 CSA member farm in upstate NY with her husband, read from her book about her first chaotic year farming during her presentation. Even on a smaller scale, I can already relate and ended up taking one of her workshops later in the day. I will leave you with one of her quotes about farming: ” The only guarantee on the farm is that something will always go wrong.” And, when it does, Wendell Berry would still say: “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.”
There is so much to “getting the goods,” as I’m going to call it, when starting a farm (and a business, although I hate calling it that). In the past couple weeks, I have ordered and received seeds, applied to farmer’s markets, built a starter hoop house, written a rain water catchment proposal, bought a domain, signed my first lease agreement, and planted my first crop of raspberries. I am continuously collecting used pallets, making seed flats out of the non-treated, used wood, and am constantly thinking about design and access to enough farmable land for year one. I am also starting to build my tool and supplies inventory and continue to attend farmer events and network with the community about Mama Tee’s. To say the least, there has not been one dull moment.
Most of my seed supply has arrived. I am due one or two more shipments in by the end of this week. Half of the raspberry canes (Red Heritage and Williamette varieties) and all of strawberries arrived first. Thanks to a 3′ x 50′ strip of land leased to me for 3 years, I was able to plant the raspberries within a week of them arriving. They are in dormancy, but I will be watching the weather and the raspberries closely to make sure if they start to bud, they will not get frost-bitten.
The hoop house has evolved. The skin is up and I made slight adjustments to anchor the bottom a bit more securely. I am working on finding some used work benches to get in there but, for now, pallets will do just fine. I am collecting used pallets around town (Craigslist works wonders for this) and re-salvaging the decent wood to make seed flats for my starts. I learned this trick from the CSA I worked for back in Humboldt County. It saves money and reduces the use of plastic. And they look awesome!
The strawberries, which are also delivered in a bare root and dormant state, are heeled in temporarily to await their final bedding establishment. More than likely, these plants will find their home in my backyard raised beds or another close by piece of land I am checking out.
I have also finished the rain water catchment proposal. This was a process: finding resources, estimating costs, and designing the system. Almost overwhelming at times. And, now that it is finished, it frustrates me with how unreasonably expensive it is for a farmer (and a land owner) to set-up a sustainable system for crop production. I am meeting with the land owners this week to discuss feasibility. Since their land is zoned Exclusive Farm Use, they might be able to get some grants or loans to help with creation of the pond. And, if they want to go ahead with this, I will be trying to raise funds through Kickstarter and applying for a few grants through rain water harvesting and drip irrigation suppliers to meet my ends on the cisterns and catchment system. This is a work in progress and will need support to get it implemented. And, as I told Danielle and Michael: ” I believe we (as the small, sustainable farm movement) will not get any where until we start accessing the potential farming land available (not just the land already set up and ready to go) as well. Which, takes a hell of a lot more work to figure out and we need a shift in the old farming paradigm and policies to a new one that is better for the land (which is starting to happen) and better for the water (which needs to happen and actually might be more important in the long-term).” So, stay tuned for more information and ways you can help.
Regardless of whether I seal the water deal on this acre, Mama Tee’s Farmstead is going to produce veggies and fruits this year. I still plan on selling at the Farmer’s Markets (veggie starts, veggies, fruits, pickles, and preserves), enlisting a few to several CSA members (email me if you are interested), having homesteading workshops, and possibly hooking up with a few local restaurants. It has been fantastic how word of mouth opens up opportunities to farm in the Portland neighborhoods. I have already felt an out pouring of support and would like to thank, in no particular order: Friends of Family Farmers (Michele and Nellie), Seth, Mike D, Scott at Portland Purple Water, Clair Klock, Natalie, Aaron, Jessica, the other Aaron, Linda, Michael, Danielle, Julie, and Debbie. Mama Tee’s can only survive with community support and Portland is the right place to be.
Mama Tee’s Farmstead is working with a local web hosting company to get the website up and running. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this myself! I will announce when it is up and active and will still run the blog (which will connect to the site) as often as possible. Look for it in another month or so.
Let the fun begin!
The past ten days have been busy ones.
Mama Tee’s Farmstead officially has a work truck. It is not yet named. Any suggestions?
The farm just placed its first seed order as well. And I want everyone to know what Mama Tee’s will be growing this year.
Types: 21 vegetables, 2 fruits, 5 herbs, and 5 flower species. Easily over 60 varieties. Most of the seeds are heirloom variety and all are GMO free! All seeds were ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom and Peaceful Valley. A complete list of types and varieties are found at the end of this post.
The hoop house went up in the front yard the past two days. I decided to leave the skin off for now to see how the PVC skeleton does in the next two storm fronts that are moving in this week. The frame was a piece of cake, digging up the grass on the other hand was a pain. I decided to do the extra work and sheet mulch because I really don’t want to battle weeds growing on the floor during the summer. An extra layer of cardboard and newspaper under the cedar chips should do the trick. I will be propagating the majority of seeds in the hoop house starting mid-February or so.
I have decided to get a nursery license so I can sell veggie starts at the farmer’s markets. And, it’s looking like I’ll have two market days. Sunday’s in the Woodstock neighborhood and Wednesday eve’s in Oregon City. Thanks to the state that just passed the Farm Direct law, Mama Tee’s will also be selling at the farmer’s market: preserves, jams, jellies, and pickled vegetables all made from the fruits and vegetables the farm will grow.
To keep you updated in other news:
I’m still working on the rain catchment proposal for the acre in Oregon City. More on this soon. I plan on doing some rain catchment at the nursery (my house) and explore options with other areas I grow food as well.
I have found another landowner in the Foster-Powell neighborhood (just one neighborhood North of mine – a five-minute drive or ten minute bike ride) who will be letting me grow raspberries and, perhaps, strawberries on a portion of her front yard. She is excited to be a part of Mama Tee’s mission! I am continuing to look for more potential land in the SE and will be growing some produce here at home as well.
Produce List for Mama Tee’s Farmstead:
|Purple of Sicily|
|Greens||Japanese Giant Red|
|Mesclun Spicy Mix|
|Lettuce||May Queen (Butterhead)|
|Henderson’s Black Seeded Simpson|
|Onion||Red of Florence|
|Oregon Sugar Pod II|
|Peppers||Cayenne Long Thin|
|Thai Yellow Chili|
|Japanese Minowase Daikon|
|Spinach||Bloomsdale Long Standing|
|Squash-s||Zucchini Black Beauty|
|Early Golden Crookneck|
|Chard||5 Color Silverbeet|
|Royalty Purple Pod|
|Tiger Eye Mix|
Well, the next month I will be in proposal mode for the farm’s water supply. And, holy moly, am I struggling to find a way to summarize what I think will be, by far, the most important issue humans will face in the next hundred years: the water crisis. Energy, food, it all means zilch without water. We lose our water supply either to depletion or contamination, that’s it, we dry up. Life, as we know it, cannot exist.
Our Earth isn’t drying up you say. It still rains and we are capable of replenishing the groundwater that is being lost. Yes and no. Do we get rain? Some places get plenty of it. True. Does that rain replenish the ground water at the rate we consume it? No. Why? Think cement, roofs, and asphalt. When the rain hits these materials, it creates run-off. Instead of that water absorbing into the ground and back into the ground water supply, it “runs off,” into a storm drain if you are urban or a creek or river if you are rural. And when it is hot (as in the summer), much of the water evaporates before it even hits the ground as precipitation or irrigation. This latter reason greatly concerns agricultural practices and the rate and amount we consume of the ground water which I will get to later. Also, some aquifers are so bad they cannot be replenished even if we drastically changed course like sinking all the rain back into the ground and decreasing our water use exponentially. Not to mention factoring in geology and global climate change which is melting glaciers at an exponential rate and drastically changing snow pack levels.
In places such as the Plains’ states (which all depend on ONE aquifer) and the San Joaquin Valley in California, ground water is dropping fast and some scientists say it is only 25-60 years before these supplies are gone. It’s already an extreme crisis in places like Texas, New Mexico, and globally in villages in India and China. But it blows me away about how little the discussion goes on elsewhere, from politicians, conservationists, farmers, or just the mainstream media and public. If the Ogollala aquifer dries up or gets contaminated beyond use for agricultural (see one of the reasons why many DON’T think the XL Pipeline is in our “Nation’s best interest”), then the US loses 20% of its total US agricultural harvest. People are starting to pick up on the idea of knowing where their food comes from, but that concept applied to the water they drink is still a mystery. Most of us still act like that tube that carries water underneath the ground (called an aquifer) that we walk on will be their indefinitely and we can, just as we do with other natural resources, exploit, waste, and treat it like it’s are a never-ending right we as a race have at our will. Well, I challenge that assumption. Just ask this farmer or this school district. It’s not just the aquifer that is having dry spells, the rivers and creeks we take from are suffering as well. And, it’s not necessarily that we take from them that is the problem, it’s the sheer volume and the rate at which we take from them that just isn’t sustainable. Uh oh, I used the word “sustainable.” And what does “sustainable” mean here? It means the rate at which you consume or use water cannot be greater than the rate at which the water can replenish itself.
Ok, Ok, enough of outlining the problem. After reading this post, I don’t want you to feel useless or overwhelmed or feel like you, doing a small part, cannot make any difference in the world. DON”T start thinking that! Just keep reading.
CURRENT NATIONAL IDEAS FOR SOLUTIONS (What THEY Say – interpret at will or perhaps I’ll interpret for you – the 1%)
Use technology to drill wells deeper, drill more often, drill in areas our nation has protected, dam more rivers, etc, etc. How do we pay for this? Tax payer money to subsidize the technology and engineering giants and the corporate, industrial farmer. Most lose money, very few make a whole bunch of money, and in the end, we are back to the same problem plus more environmental destruction: over-consumption. Doesn’t this have a striking resemblance to another natural resource we extract?
I am particularly hard on these ideas, it’s true, because I just don’t think they move us forward. They are very circular, are temporary, are too costly, do not deal with the root of the problem, and profit only the very few.
To be a bit more fair, however, the government is trying to encourage use of water conservation practices by the farmers. Some cities and towns have put in ordinances for restricted water use during severe weather. But very little incentives or subsidies are going to preventative and sustainable measures, the bulk is still going to the corporate, industrial, out-dated, ineffective ways of the past.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS (or at least ways you can help) for BETTER SUSTAINABILITY
I don’t claim to have all the solutions. Not even close really. These problems at both the local and global levels are complex and, for me, overwhelming. What I do have control over, however, are my actions and contributions to helping move us forward to a world (or, at least, a community) which has an increased awareness of our impact on the resources we use, a better connection to the land around us, a greater empathy for all life on this Earth, and cooperative actions to reduce these impacts to a more sustainable level. Tall order, yeah, but necessary.
ONward, one step at a time. Step one: awareness. Step two: courage. Step three: action.
Step three has many steps of its own. Down to the details, which is a bit harder for me since I seem to think big picture the majority of the time. I’m coming back to the land, back to Oregon City, back to finding a solution for the water issue I have at hand. I’m convinced I can find a way to water an acre of vegetables while having a reduced footprint on my water consumption. I’ll be handling this issue in these three ways:
1. Rain Water Catchment Systems
This is the biggy in all aspects of the term “biggy.” If you haven’t heard of it yet, time to become aware. This is probably the best way YOU can make a reduced impact and help return water back into the ground, especially in the Pacific Northwest where rain is plentiful. But, it’s even more important in Texas, AZ, and NM now too. As I was digging into the research, I found some pretty creative systems that folks use in the Southwest.
I was out at the farm on Saturday and had the pleasure of taking a stroll around the land with Clair Klock, Portland’s own rain water catchment extraordinaire and a congenial, jolly good soul as well. Just Google Clair Klock and rain water harvesting, and you’ll see just what kind of fun I had on Saturday. After two hours of brainstorming ideas, informing us of resources, and giving us an exhaustive list of options, I think Michael and I were a wee bit overwhelmed. The potential for this is inspiring, the initial cost for this poses the largest barrier for small farmers. And, the government incentives just aren’t in place for this. Their money is still going to the drill deeper, corporate-controlled Empire. So, until this changes, the small farmers, the environmentally-just farmers, need creativeness. Which returns me to the beginning statement I made: proposal mode for the next month.
A very quick introduction to rain water harvesting practices starts with a structure that you can “catch” the rain off of, filtering and piping it into some sort of storage container. The containers range from large ponds lined with a plastic sheeting to 300, 000 gallon silo containers to under ground cistern tanks to 50 gallon rain barrels. The farm has a large barn on it with the potential to capture all the rain needed to run a one (even several acres) acre plot of vegetable production, not to mention live stock production too. In the plans for the proposal: a 30-40,000 gallon silo, above ground system and a 30 x 40 x 12 ft pond which can store up to 150, 000 gallons of rain water throughout the season. All of this water will be captured from a 4500 sf roof. And who said I’d never use my math skills. Just to clue in those that might be the least bit mathematically curious:
1 cf can hold 7.48gal water
1 sf can capture .623 gal of water for every 1″ of rain
Oregon City’s average rainfall is 45″
I’m going all in like this because if we get the funding, this setup would be enough to run a couple of acres of veggie production, plus all the livestock needs. It would be the best option for the land owner (and myself) for the longer term. I’ll talk about the ways I plan to fund the project in another post.
More information on rain water harvesting (especially geared toward residential folks) can be found here. And ways to combat run-off in urban areas: combine catchment with the slow-release of the water into something called a rain garden.
Only answer to the water crisis? Definitely not. An effective and simple way you can help conserve water, replenish aquifers, and reduce your impact. YES!
2. Drip Irrigation Systems
Using an effective drip system can reduce your water use up to 90%! I will be designing the most efficient system that I can in the most cost efficient manner. This too poses up front cost. Producing an acre of vegetables does not mean watering an acre of land (which is ~42,000 sf). With the drip system I’m designing, I am reducing the watered area to 11,000 sf and hopefully less than that with the water release from the tubing being staggered.
3. Multiple Sites
Lastly, I need to hedge my bets. Don’t put all my eggs in one basket, if you catch my drift. Diversify not only production, but place of production. Mama Tee’s Farmstead is going to have multiple locations. I am going to set up a greenhouse (more like a large hoop house) at my house and grow all my starts there. I am also talking with a couple of folks about using their backyards within the Portland vicinity. This means the water I use in these cases will be coming from Portland’s water supply. Portland’s water reservoirs are filled from diverted river water behind two dams in the Bull Run Watershed. In fact, this 100 square mile watershed, that has an average rainfall of 130″ and lies in a protected area on the SW flank of Mt. Hood, supplies 25% of Oregon folks their drinking water.
I am not going to get into a long discussion about the controversy of dams here. They have both benefits and high costs. The fact of the matter is, the West would not be settled without them. Because of them, we have lost a great majority of the majestic salmon and have damaged the ecology of river systems severely. The solutions go back to the “current” and “possible” sections in this post. There, done.
My goal with running this farm isn’t to have any impact at all. The impact is inevitable. The goal of running this farm is to reduce the farm’s negative impact on the environment as much as possible and practical, while giving back to the environment (which includes humans here) as much or more than I am taking. I could figure out how much water we waste on lawn (grass) care in these backyards and compare it to my vegetable production use, but I am not.
Do I wish Portland would develop rain water catchment systems on every building in downtown and start diverting that into their reservoirs? Yes, yes I do (just think of the jobs it would create :)). But I know that it takes time and advocacy and, ultimately, ends in politics. And, you know what? I have seeds to order, hoop houses to build, and veggies to grow. I know others are working hard to lead us in a more sustainable way when it comes to water. I have much gratitude for this. Thank you. The farm will do its part and support the cause every step of the way.
Most of the land I visited was similar in characteristic: 1. Located on ag-zoned land, 2. Fallow and flat or only slightly sloped, 3. Had been farmed in the past with food crops, and 4. Located within an hour of urban Portland. I say “urban” Portland because the Portland Growth Boundary extends farther than what you would now call urban areas. In towns like Sherwood and Damascus, where the growth boundary extends and ends now, there are distinct differences in of the land that borders this boundary. A visible line cuts through the landscape: one side with small tracts of farmland and rural space and the other lined with suburban, gated neighborhoods and condominiums. A bitter reminder of my NW Indiana roots, where I watched, in little over two decades, prime farmland swallowed up by the ever-extending arms of the Chicago suburbs. Yep, it is the stories Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp use in their songs. One majority vote in the city can change the boundary, extending the arm and swallowing up more land to development. The land owner just adjacent to one of the boundaries in Sherwood showed concern over the future of the land in which he tends.
Downsides to most of the land was a lack of living space for the farmer (at least right away) and all the land I looked at posed the same issue: lack of water. Vegetable farming is not like grain or hay farming. Nor is it like farming livestock. Although I have not done the math and I am sure the water use would be distributed differently through the seasons, I would compare vegetable farming to dairy-farming in terms of amount of water needed to operate the farm successfully. Of course, dairy farmers need that water for cleaning purposes and vegetable farmers need the water during the dry, summer months of the Pacific Northwest to maintain healthy growing vegetables. So, undoubtedly and ironically, water is my first challenge in these parts and in my next post, I will discuss ways I will try to overcome this challenge.
So, my choice really came down to one thing: the landowners themselves. It was based on the connections I made with the landowners. Part of my philosophy in successful and sustainable farming is cooperation and building trustful relationships with the community. Starting a business alone, without a successful relationship with the community, won’t work for me. I want to be involved on more than just a business level. As much as I want to give back to the land, I want to give back the community as well. Not just food for them to eat, but also a sense of integrity, empowerment, and security that stems from connecting with and helping each other out. All the land owners were great, and I have so much gratitude for being in the place where I am right now, but one family stuck out in kindness, vision, and compatibility more than the others. So, I will be growing vegetables on the outskirts of Oregon City, just a half hour from downtown Portland. This is a 50-some acre property, with about 20 acres in pasture. The family already hobby farms with livestock and has goats, chickens, cattle and foraging hogs. There is also a large barn on site, which will be critical in the challenge for obtaining water (more on this in my next post).
So there is much work that needs doing in the next few months to get the farm ready for spring and I will update the blog each critical step/s of the way. Here’s another look at the land with the barn in the background. Stay tuned for my next post (next week!) about rain water harvesting and other ways I’ll be dealing with water. I have also added some links in the right column and will be updating this often with interesting articles, resources, and other pertinent information so feel free to dig in. I also want to leave you with this You Tube link to John Mellencamp performing “Rain on the Scarecrow” at one of the first Farm Aid concerts in 1985. He was one of my first concerts as a kid…he is still rocking Farm Aid today as well.
HAPPY SOLSTICE EVERYONE!
I have chosen the search for farmable land in Northern Oregon, within an hour of Portland actually. I have many reasons for this, none that are relative to this particular post however. And, although I discuss the land around Portland, OR, I think there could be similar analogies anywhere in this country. Different issues but with the common, underlying theme of the disappearing farm land that can produce high quality food for its community. But I do not want to get on a soapbox at this moment, (I could go on and on about wasted farm land and ecological degradation due to the exploitative and greedy ways our culture has shifted putting profit over common decency, community, and balance between taking from and giving back). I will save that for another time. I want to get back to the dream. And although the problems of our society and the globe are part of which fuels my desire to farm this way, it is not what I choose to concentrate this blog on. Instead, I want to concentrate more on the part of the dream that pertains to the action, the process, and the possibility of getting back to the roots…with the land, the community, and sustainable values.
So, the past three weeks, I have researched land, meeting with the people who are responsible for that land, and discussing possible cooperative arrangements to tend to one acre of that land. I think this might be a good time to express the one-year goal for this farm: to produce a variety of vegetables on one acre of land using organic (chemical free) and diversified farming methods for distribution to CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members and to sell at local and regional farmer’s markets. Sounds simple right? I will add one more stipulation to the goal: the farm will produce enough income in one year to sustain a full-time farmer’s salary. What is an average farmer’s salary for one year? What it is or what it should be? Two questions which undoubtedly will give a slew of answers depending on who takes on the question. To keep it non-controversial for now, I will report the Bureau of Labor Statistics average salary for farmers (agricultural managers is what they call it) from May 2010: $60,830. Wow! Pretty good right? Well, I don’t really trust these statistics for small-scale, local farmers. The BLS makes no differentiation between small farmers (under 100 acres) and mega-agribusiness farmers (1000+ acres). And since this is an ultra-small farm (1 acre), we will low-ball it and go from the lowest 10% of that average and hope to exceed it come end of the season next year: $29,280.
Now that we have that out of the way, a bit about the land around Portland. Although there is plenty of water that falls from the sky around these parts, the amount in the underground aquifers seem questionable. Of the farms (lands) that I visited the range of gpm’s (gallons per minute) of the wells was between 15 and 60. This is plenty sufficient in the winter and spring when rain is plentiful. With intermediate storage (a pond or tanks) it would be sufficient in the dry season as well IF it was only used for agricultural purposes. But, most of the land I visited used the well for potable residential use. So I will need to factor in adequate water supply for the summer months.
Another factor in the Pacific Northwest is soil degradation that millions of years of rains has caused. Over time the topsoil was depleted of essential minerals needed to grow nutritious vegetables. According to Steve Solomon’s book about vegetable growing West of the Cascades, most of the leached soils lack several essential minerals except Potassium (K). He claims using fertilizer (compost and manure) from animals which grazed hay and grasses from these poor soils have increased K in the soil to excessive amounts where vegetables grown will lose nutritional value (although they might be large and plump).
The last fact I failed to realize before searching these parts was the sheer number of Christmas Tree Farms around the Portland area. North, South, East West, Portland is surrounded by 8 foot Douglas or Noble Fir Trees. Oregon is “The Christmas Tree Capital of the World.” According to the ODA (Oregon Department of Agriculture), Christmas Trees are the 10th top agricultural commodity for cash receipts in Oregon and the only one in the top ten YOU CANNOT EAT! Christmas Trees were also 8th in Oregon in 2010 for export value bringing in a whopping $19,165,000. In Clackamas County (the County just S and SE of Portland proper and where I concentrated my search) alone, 19,000 acres (the highest in the state for any county) are used for tree production. Yep, that’s 19,000 acres with the ability to feed 760,000 people (more that the population of Portland) gone so Christians around the nation can put up a 8 foot tree once a year in a living room only to see it dry out and die then get thrown away a month later. It sure sounds like a silly tradition when you put it in those terms, but, I admit, there is something comforting and festive about having a decorated conifer tree in your house on Christmas Eve. My answer to this tradition, buy a live one, let it grow in a portable, half wine barrel for five years (and five Christmas’s), then go plant it somewhere it is needed when it gets too big for your place.
With issues one and two in mind, and the third (which I can’t do much about at the moment) visually teasing me every place I visit, I give you some pictures of the potential land that could become Mama Tee’s Farm.
This is a good example of the land search. I am missing one parcel which was about 2 acres potential under Himalayan Blackberries in Estacada, OR (SE from Portland towards Mt. Hood).
I’d love to see comments you might have, questions you might ask the land owner if it was you searching for the land. Next post I will let you know which one was chosen!