Monday, August 01, 2011

Growing Food, Building Community

Growing up in a largely rural state like Oregon, you'd think people would be all been there, done that about where our food comes from. I was lucky growing up with relatives who were cattle ranchers and allowed their crazy-about-horses city girl niece to go on cattle drives and hang out at the ranch during vacations. At least it gave me some idea of the work involved in producing the food that appeared on our family table.

Students on a farm tour at Zenger Farm.

But here in DIY Portland there are kids (and many adults) who couldn't tell you what a brussels sprout plant looks like, or point to the part of a live chicken that hides the drumstick. It's not a stretch to say that the closest a lot of city folk get to actual farm animals is a petting zoo at the pumpkin patch.

The wetland at Zenger Farm.

Fortunately we have a place like Zenger Farm, a unique partnership between the City of Portland and a non-profit organization that encompasses a six-acre working organic farm and a 16-acre wetland inside the city limits. Originally owned in the 19th century by Jacob Johnson, a sawmill operator and Johnson Creek's namesake, a portion of the original 320-acre property was bought by Ulrich Zenger, a dairy farmer and proprietor of Mount Scott Dairy. His son, Ulrich Zenger, Jr., sold the land to the City of Portland in order to protect it from commercial development and preserve the Johnson Creek Basin and Watershed.

Greenhouse at Zenger Farm.

Currently it's a working urban farm with a CSA, and sells its produce at area farmers' markets as well as to local restaurants. It also coordinates matching money for food stamp recipients to be able to buy, cook and eat local foods and is piloting an innovative SNAP (food stamp) CSA model program. Recently Zenger added Furey Field, a 5-acre community garden space adjacent to the farm that will become 1,000 new garden plots for low-income households in the surrounding Lents and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhoods.

As if all that weren't enough, it also holds public workshops and summer camps to teach young people and adults that healthy food comes from healthy soil, which can be anywhere—even in the city. And all of the money raised by all of these activities goes right back into programming, making it a truly worthy endeavor.

To celebrate all this work, and just because its a great time of year to be outside on the farm, Zenger is holding two Farmhouse Suppers on August 13 and 14 at the farm. Intimate, with only 20 people each evening and dinner provided by the estimable Mark Doxtader of Tastebud and wines made by Ben Thomas of Montinore Estate Winery, it should be a summer night to remember.

Come if you can and, if you can't, be sure to plan a visit to Zenger Farm for a tour of the amazing work they're doing on our behalf. It'll make you even more proud of your city!

Details: Farmhouse Suppers at Zenger Farm. Aug. 13 and 14, 5:30 pm; tickets $100, reservations required. Zenger Farm, 11741 SE Foster Rd. 503-282-4245.

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