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The Land Now…

December 5, 2011

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.

Ironically, this is what I saw at a stop light on my way to the farmer's market yesterday. 'Tis the season.

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.

2+ acres in Sherwood, OR (SW Portland)

Backyard in Cully neighborhood (NE Portland)

Eagle Creek, OR (SE from Portland) pasture land with horse barn and chicken coop in distance (at least 3+ acres of pasture).

Eagle Creek Farmhouse rental (4BD/2BA, 11 acres) - the chicken coop area

Eagle Creek rental - Spring fed pond closest to the barn

3 acre pasture near Oregon City, OR (SE of Portland)

Another view of the pasture near Oregon City.

2-3 acre field in Wilsonville, OR (South of Portland)

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!

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 21, 2011 9:50 pm

    I just discovered your blog, Carrie. So glad I did, keep it coming!

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