A Radio Documentary by Barbara Bernstein
Richard Louv: I had a real sense of ownership, as many of you did of my woods, they were mine, to the extent that as an eight, nine year old I think I pulled out hundreds of survey stakes that I knew had something to do with the bulldozers that were taking out other woods. How many here pulled out survey stakes? I hereby induct you into the secret society of stake pullers.
ItÕs April 2006 and author Richard Louv is giving the keynote address at the annual Livability Summit in Portland, Oregon. Sitting in the back recording his speech, my mind wanders back to 1990. My neighbors were trying to stop row houses from being built on a corner lot in our neighborhood. Carl, who lived in the house next door, had turned the lot into a wild art garden. Huge oil canvases and sculptures dominated the view from the street. But hidden among weeds and wild grass were cultivated beds of vegetables and flowers. The night after the City Council gave the go-ahead to bulldoze the garden, a bunch of us gathered among the sculptures and canvasses and adolescent tomato plants and pulled out all the survey stakes that plotted out the row houses to come.
IÕm Barbara Bernstein and youÕre listening to Urban Green. In this program, weÕll look at how our connection to the place where we live is strengthened by eating locally grown food and learning to relate to the watershed we live in, as we search for the ribbons of green in the city that connect us to the natural world.
Richard Louv: There is something in us that we donÕt fully understand that needs to see natural landscapes, that needs to get our hands dirty and our feet wet. When we donÕt get enough of that, we donÕt do so well. When we get more of it we do a lot better. The new studies are showing great benefits particularly to children but to all of us from nature whether itÕs in the city or outside of the city.
Steve Johnson: My nickname in grade school is Nature Boy because I lived in the woods and I never wore shoes so all the kids in school were, Ōnature boy.Ķ
Steve Johnson grew up along Johnson Creek on the southeast edge of Portland.
SJ: But part of that experience was living down here and really running wild during the summers in particular. Catching crawfish, rope swing that weÕd jump off into the creek and swim in it but it was also a very important place to be away from adults and I think itÕs a very important place to explore yourself and you donÕt get that by being downtown or you donÕt get that by being in just a recreational park. You get it by this sense that of youÕre on the planet by living here and experiencing a wild place at least within the city.
Jim Labbe: Between 1880 and 1920 the majority of our population in the United States became urban.
Jim Labbe is the Urban Conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland.
JL: Poverty, political unrest and planning issues associated with all these people coming into the city inspired people to appreciate the value of nature and access to parks in the urban environment.
Richard Louv: In the late 1800s and early 1900s there was this movement to view urban design as being connected directly to health. Central Park was built for health by the industrialists who cared about the health of their workers because it made them more productive. ThatÕs where Central Park came from.
JL: It was very much a social reform movement to ensure that people had access to open space and parks within the city, that it wasnÕt just the wealthy urbanites who could drive out in the country and get their access to nature.
Mike Houck: Our region is justifiably noted around the United States for having stopped urban sprawl.
Mike Houck, director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute in Portland, has been one of the cityÕs strongest advocates for protecting urban nature.
MH: That is a function of having an urban growth boundary in the planning program. Unfortunately all the emphasis was protecting nature out there and not inside the urban growth boundary.
In 1973, Oregon created a statewide land use planning system that protects significant farm and forestland. But Mike Houck recognized that nature needs to be preserved and protected inside the city as well. Yet it took more than twenty years for decision makers in the Portland Metro area to pick up on his ideas.
MH: And in the summer of Õ96, a very conscious decision was made at the regional level to protect and restore ribbons of green, access to nature inside the urban growth boundary. Every city and every county was required to adopt regulations at the local level to protect water quality and flood plains. The next step, which we are now engaged in, is to protect fish and wildlife habitat.
Bob Sallinger: I think thereÕs a tendency to think about wildlife as something thatÕs out there beyond the urban landscape, that we protect urban habitat for people and the lands beyond for wildlife and thatÕs really an inaccuracy.
Bob Sallinger is the Urban Conservation Director for the Audubon Society of Portland.
BS: Wildlife doesnÕt respect jurisdictional boundaries and the preservation of wildlife is going to require that we protect wildlife not only outside cities but inside cities. We have over 200 species of birds that are known to pass through or nest within Portland city limits. 7% of the known Peregrine falcons in the state of Oregon occur within city limits. A significant portion of the bald eagles in the state occur within the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region. If we want to protect and preserve it for those populations itÕs going to mean protecting habitat within the urban arena.
Mike Houck: When I started doing wildlife habitat inventories in the region as part of the land use planning program, I was told at that time, that there really wasnÕt a place for nature in the city. The whole point of the planning program was seen as an effort to protect farm and forest land outside the urban growth boundary and basically anything inside the urban growth boundary was to be urbanized period. So in reality, we have been fighting a consistent battle over the last 20 years to in fact change that attitude and I think there is more of a recognition at the regional and local level that we do in fact need to protect and not only protect because we look at Johnson Creek, the Columbia Slough. We have a lot of restoration to do.
Steve Johnson: WeÕre along Johnson Creek, along what we call the canyon area. ThereÕs about 100 acres here that one way or another in the last 15 years weÕve been able to protect or put into public ownership.
Watershed activist and educator Steve Johnson
SJ: The creek starts 24 miles up from the Willamette and goes through extreme changes in social and ecological habitat, from rural areas, farm areas where thereÕs a lot of nurseries, on through suburban areas, on through very poor neighborhoods, by rich neighborhoods and then finally into the Willamette. When I was growing up, which would be the 1950s, I could still come down here and catch a fish any time I wanted to, rainbow, cutthroat trout, occasionally IÕd catch a salmon. . .Whoa, look I just caught, a ten, fifteen pound fish by my hands.
It wasnÕt too long ago that urban streams, like Johnson Creek, were regarded more as a nuisance than a resource. Like urban creeks everywhere, Johnson Creek has had a checkered past. By the 1960s the creek was synonymous with flooding and pollution. Steve Johnson was becoming an environmental activist, but he and his friends never thought about saving the environment in their own neighborhoods.
SJ: When I started working in the environmental movement back in the late 1960s, we surely never thought about there being environment even in the city. We were saving wilderness. It was more glamorous to be going out there and saving Mt. Hood Wilderness and the whole idea of places like Johnson Creek was they were a lost cause. I think Mike Houck and others kind of went like, wait a minute, there is environment in the city, itÕs close at hand.
So Steve helped start the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, to try to rehabilitate the creek, but it was an uphill battle to get other people to take him seriously.
SJ: The first meetings I went to, to restore Johnson Creek people literally would just say that we should just put it in a tube, so this is the euthanasia strategy basically, you know, kill it off. It had reached a point where it didnÕt seem to make any difference so people continued to just trash it because it looked like everybody else was doing it.
Sue Marshall: The Tualatin I think was perceived very much the same way as one of those trashed rivers, that why would you even throw any money at it because there was no hope. The Tualatin was considered the most polluted river in the state of Oregon and it was from unbridled development.
Sue Marshall is with Tualatin Riverkeepers, a community organization working to restore and protect the Tualatin River, flowing through the southwest suburbs of Portland.
SM: Our focus is water, but you really have to look across the landscape and more and more weÕre getting involved with land use issues because that has a direct impact. Everything ultimately ends up in the river, in the creeks.
JL: Well, we know building for example in flood plains is very bad idea when youÕre increasing run-off upstream.
Jim Labbe with the Audubon Society of Portland
JL: A lot of our riparian areas and our stream areas support the greatest diversity of species that are found in and pass through the urban environment so that we need to keep those areas in particular in a more natural state.
RL: The watersheds provide natural filtration,
Author Richard Louv
RL: a lot of benefits that would cost a lot of money to do
Sam Adams: If our foremothers and forefathers had taken a more green approach to dealing with storm water thatÕs created by our streets and roads and bridges a couple of decades ago, we wouldnÕt have to be building this 1.4 billion dollar big pipe solution.
Sam Adams is a Portland City Commissioner.
The big pipe project is being mandated by the federal government to prevent sewage overflows into the Willamette River. A lot of those sewage overflows are the result of too much storm water going into the combined sewage system. And so every time it rains it backs up the sewage system and then it overflows into the Willamette River.
Portland is replacing its 100-year-old combined sewage system with two huge tunnels running alongside the east and west banks of the Willamette River. The project will capture storm water and sewage and channel it to a wastewater treatment plant near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. The Big Pipe Project is the result of Portland being sued under the Clean Water Act for allowing raw sewage to flow into the Willamette River.
BS: But at that time, back in the 90s, there were two paths that the city could have taken.
Bob Sallinger with the Audubon Society of Portland
BS: The first was to do a smaller pipe, take a longer period of time and spend part of the savings on green infrastructure, because green infrastructure can serve exactly that same purpose. It would have been cheaper, if would have been more effective and it would have had multiple benefits. Not only would we have gotten the sewage out of the river, but we have greened up our landscape and served wildlife, served people in a much broader way. The fact that weÕre now spending 1.4 billion dollars on this project has served as a wake up call and reminded the city that we need to start pursuing these green solutions. If we donÕt do that the big pipe will be obsolete within a couple of generations.
Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams has been promoting a plan he hopes will prevent the need for future technological fixes.
SA: My goal is to get 80% of the cityÕs storm water dealt with on site, not have it go into the sewer system and what that means is, you know, we can stretch by 25, 40, 50 years, the useful life of that 1.4 billion dollar big pipe solution.
RL: A watershed
Author Richard Louv
RL: provides a pattern in most regions that produces a sense of psychological connection.
Sam Adams: If I was to walk down the street and ask folks, which watershed do you live in, they would say, I donÕt know. So I think the first step is to help people learn their place in the ecosystem of PortlandÕs watersheds, where are they? Most people donÕt know for instance that all watersheds flow to the Willamette River. What you do on your individual property has a direct impact on what happens in your watershed and eventually the Willamette and the Columbia Rivers. So our goal is to really reconnect people in a very personal way to their watersheds.
Twice a year the Johnson Creek Watershed Council holds a watershed wide event bringing together hundreds of volunteers to work in the watershed.
Watershed Wide Event: The role for this particular project is to help the Johnson Creek Watershed by planting today specifically native shrubs that are going to provide some shade, provide some wildlife habitat, stabilize some soil. . . WeÕve had a good event today. ThereÕs been about 35+ people here. WeÕve done a lot of ivy removal and weÕve planted over 500 trees. . . This whole stretch of the corridor about two years ago was 8 foot high blackberry and weÕve taken out at least twenty truckloads of garbage out of here. Tires and engine blocks, fender, car parts.
SJ: One of the things weÕve done in this canyon and other places is get groups to adopt the area.
Watershed activist Steve Johnson
Like this park and the whole canyon was adopted by the Environmental Middle School so the kids came in and helped with planting and they come in and clean up and they do watering and that works really well because people really feel some ownership over the park and itÕs not some governmental responsibility but itÕs their responsibility too.
Steve meets some Johnson Creek neighbors on the trail:
Man 1: How youÕve been?
Steve: Good, how about you?
Man 1: Oh kicking around.
Steve: Hi Jack.
Jack: Big old carp down there. Seen him yesterday, heÕs swimming around slowly and this morning we see him laying there he looks like heÕs dead about.
Steve: Maybe weÕll go down there and look at him.
Man 1: I donÕt know if you can see him.
Steve: IÕll go see. See you around.
SJ: 20 years ago we wouldnÕt be standing here peacefully. There was motorcycles. Sometimes as many as 8 to 10 motorcycles. There was gangs having little warfare down here. No women would ever jog down here or walk down here by themselves. Suddenly I have seen women feeling comfortable enough to walk down here by themselves and thatÕs that kind of reclaiming the territory and itÕs done one person at a time like the people we just saw who on their own walk down through here every day and pick up litter just because it makes them feel good and theyÕre the ones that tell us whether or not thereÕs fish in the creek. ItÕs harder for people to damage the creek because people have taken ownership of it.
Even in the Tualatin Watershed, the epicenter of the Portland areaÕs most intense urban development, Sue Marshall sees hope for changing practices, especially in areas that are being redeveloped.
SM: Redevelopment offers a great opportunity for restoration. Creeks are being opened up where they have been otherwise paved over and the key important thing is to stop paving them over, to avoid impacting them.
Sam Adams: The Willamette watershed is unrecognizable from its natural state. ItÕs been piped and diked, itÕs been undergrounded. A lot of it goes directly into the sewer.
JL: How we treat storm water,
Jim Labbe, with the Audubon Society of Portland
JL: whether we put it into a pipe and try to treat it at a wastewater treatment plant or whether we try to treat close to site has a big impact on water quality of our streams.
SA: We gotta start thinking of the streets as sort of tributaries to the watersheds that lead to the Willamette and the Columbia River because thatÕs exactly what they are.
When rainwater trickles down through the ground naturally it filters into the groundwater and slowly makes its way to the river. When water rushes down a street it washes all the oils and grime from the pavement into a storm drain and then all that pollution winds up in the river. Sam Adams has been proposing building swales alongside city streets, vegetated beds that soak up storm water runoff from the street and redirect the runoff into the ground.
SA: The best thing that we can do with rainwater is to get it to percolate into the ground. So my goal is to have the storm water percolate into swales everywhere that we possibly can in the city street system so before the water goes into the ground itÕs cleaned by vegetation, itÕs cleaned by the soil that it sort of percolates through before it hits the ground water. WeÕre not going to turn Portland back into its primitive state but we can recreate a lot of that primitive, natural, ecological system that existed before there was this city here by just changing our practices.
SJ: IÕve worked out in the Lents neighborhood for over ten years with an urban renewal district there that was in the heart of the Johnson Creek flood area.
Watershed activist Steve Johnson
When we came into that process they had the maps that showed Johnson Creek as no more than a two lane road and I said, your maps are wrong, it isnÕt that big, itÕs this big, meaning that it was a flood plain too. TheyÕre now building the new economic plan for that urban renewal area around the creek as an amenity instead of a liability, but it took ten years to change those habits of thinking about the creek and wetlands as a nuisance instead of an asset.
Wisteria: Around the early 90s the Bureau of Environmental Services created whatÕs called the Johnson Creek Watershed Management Plan and they started purchasing up any open spaces and thatÕs actually how this property got held as a public land holding and the idea is to restore the flood portions of those lands for maximum water holding for big storm events to keep Johnson Creek from flooding into peopleÕs homes and businesses.
WeÕre out at Zenger Farm, on the outskirts of SE Portland. 30 years ago I frequently drove down Foster Road past this place and it was indistinguishable from other old farmsteads along the road. A half-mile east of here the road narrowed to two lanes and you were in rural Oregon. Then in the late 1970s a freeway pushed its way through the neighborhood and the old fields and pastures were rezoned for industrial use. Today the agricultural land that once neighbored Zenger Farm has been transformed into a landscape of body shops, wrecking yards, warehouse complexes, a toxic storage facility and a tattoo parlor.
WL: My name is Wisteria Loefler. IÕm the executive director of the Friends of Zenger Farm. WeÕre going up to the old Zenger Farm House. Originally the house was built in 1887. The Zenger family lived in it from the time it was built until the 1980s. Olrich Zenger, Jr., their only son, was born in the house in 1912.
Sara Cogan: My name is Sara. Nice to meet you all. This is Zenger Farm. Thanks for coming. This used to be the Mt. Scott Dairy. The father and then the son sold milk and meat products and they sold it to the local community and then at the end of Olrich Zenger, Jr.Õs life he was seeing buildings like that come up next door and houses sneaking up on his property and he didnÕt want to see that happen to this piece of land.
Kid: So he put a wire?
SC: No, he didnÕt put up the wire. He put in motion the process that got this piece of property sold to the city.
WL: In the 1980s he started to get older, didnÕt have any children and he realized there was really no one to come and take the property after he was gone. In his lifetime he had seen Foster Road go from a little single wagon road to a four-lane highway. So he started making calls to the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, any environmental organization that he could think of and heÕs asking them, hey, IÕve got this 16 acre gem inside the city, I want it held as a park, are you interested. And there was some interest but they werenÕt able to finalize a deal before he died and then the city of Portland purchased it in 1994.
The city wanted the farm in order to protect the wetlands in the back part of the property, to improve the water quality of Johnson Creek by allowing the wetlands to collect storm water. But no one was thinking about preserving Zenger Farm as a working farm. Now when the Johnson Creek basin was all farmland, nobody worried about the creek flooding. If anything the winter and spring floods improved the quality of the farmland. In those days Portland was surrounded by farms and people in the city had personal connections with the farmers who grew their food. In fact, a rite of passage for many of my friends who grew up in Portland was picking berries during the summer in one of the many fields at the edge of town. Johnson CreekÕs propensity to flood only became a problem when the agricultural land was subdivided for housing and commercial use. With the connection severed to where our food is grown, we lost a sense of the cycles of life: the cycles of growing food, eating whatÕs in season and the changing water levels of the rivers and creeks that flow through our communities. So it was all well and good to protect the wetlands on the Zenger property but some people also wanted to preserve farming as well.
WL: After the city bought the property, the neighbors noticed that it wasnÕt being used anymore and you know they knew this place as a working farm, so several of the neighbors and other community members who really wanted to see the farming continued, brokered a deal between the city and a local organic farmer. They said, you know, youÕre not using that upland portion of the land, why donÕt you let him farm on the land and in exchange the payment that heÕll make to the city of Portland for use of the land will be education.
Marc Boucher-Colbert brought Urban Bounty Farm to the Zenger property in 1995. In exchange for farming the land he turned the farm into an open-air classroom. Eventually the farm needed a larger and more formal group to maintain its expanding educational activities. In 1999, a group of community activists formed the Friends of Zenger Farm.
Suzanne Briggs: Zenger Farm is just this wonderful educational working farm
Suzanne Briggs sits on the Portland-Multnomah County Food Policy Council.
SB: and they have school children come out and actually learn about wetlands and gardening and itÕs a very much a hands-on farm.
ESL Biology Class at the farm:
Wisteria: Hi, there, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, this group?
Sure, IÕm Billie Cavanaugh, IÕm the service learning coordinator at Madison HS and this is one of our ESL biology classes. TheyÕre doing unit on food in their biology class and wanted to kind of incorporate some actual hands-on learning.
Sara Cogan: IÕm Sara Cogan and IÕm the education coordinator here at Zenger Farm. Today weÕre going to have them build a compost pile and learn about the components of a compost pile and then weÕre going to have them mulch our baby orchard and learn about why you might want to do that.
Leslie Pohl-Kosbau: I grew up in Portland and I lived around farms.
Leslie Pohl-Kosbau runs PortlandÕs Community Garden Program.
LPK: There were farms on the Columbia River, which is all now industrial land, there were farms everywhere because a lot of people who moved here from other countries farmed because they knew to do that and they knew that they had a love of food.
WL: Food is such a critical jumping off point for so many things. You can jump from food the to the economy for example. ItÕs important for us as urban residents to be aware of the farm economy and what it means to produce food, what it takes to produce food. Right now the average thing on your dinner plate has traveled 1,500 miles to get to you. Projects like this and farming that is within reach of urban residences helps us remember the importance of that when itÕs so easy to walk into Safeway and buy an apple any time of the year.
Michael Pollan: We have these expectations now. We want our food convenient. We want it picked, cut, washed, packaged, everything but chewed and digested for us.
Michael Pollan is the author of The OmnivoreÕs Dilemma
And if you want to eat that way itÕs going to cost a lot of energy. If you want strawberries twelve months of the year, itÕs going to take a lot of energy, it you want anything anytime, itÕs going to take a lot of energy. Between 17 and 20% of all our fossil fuel use in this country is going to feed ourselves this way. And it goes to growing the corn and all the other crops. It goes to processing them, these high-energy processes and it goes to trucking around the country. So at the end of the industrial food chain, organic or conventional is an industrial eater, so youÕve got to change the way we eat, the way we consume before you can change the whole system. And what happens when you get out of the supermarket, when you go to the farmerÕs market or join the CSA, community supported agriculture, is that suddenly, a whole world opens up. You will not find processed food. You will not find strawberries 12 months of the year. You will find what the land produces now where you live.
You can find a good escape from the industrial food chain at Zenger Farm, which provides land for a Community Supported Agriculture program. The way that a CSA works is that a group of families actually buy subscriptions to the farm. Before the growing season starts, each CSA member pays a fixed amount for a portion of the season's harvest. Then every week during the growing season, these shareholders receive boxes of local, organic produce. The CSA system provides the financial support a farmer needs early in the spring and it provides the community with an experiential connection to the food they eat.
WL: Our farmersÕ motto is growing food in the city for people who live in the city. I would say 90% of this food is eaten by local families who live in SE Portland and then a very small percentage gets sold to local restaurants.
YouÕre listening to Urban Green. In the second half of this program weÕll look at how the growing interest in eating locally and knowing where our food comes from is reflected in the increased popularity of farmersÕ markets and urban farming. The music weÕre listening to is by Grupo Condo, who play at a farmersÕ markets throughout the Portland area.
SB: In 1999 the Oregon Farmers Market had approximately about 35 to 40 farmers markets around the state of Oregon. And to date we have 70 farmers markets.
Suzanne Briggs is on the board of the Oregon FarmersÕ Markets Association.
SB: This came from many different directions. Part of it was a concern of saving the small family farms here in Oregon and that the relationship with the person who grows our food is becoming more and more important.
Eamon Malloy: Right now weÕre standing in the middle of what would normally be Fremont Street but right now is the middle of the Interstate FarmersÕ Market where itÕs produce central here on North Interstate.
Eamon Malloy helped start the Interstate Farmers Market in North Portland in 2005. The market is sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, whose hospital campus is right across Interstate Avenue from the market
Eamon Malloy: Once again Rachel is just about the first person to bring apples to market. SheÕs got WilliamÕs Pride and Gravensteins this week, as well as peaches and tomatoes and a variety of eggplant and corn.
BB: Where are your peaches from?
Rachel: The Grand Island, by Dayton, about an hour from here.
BB: Well, I think IÕd like to buy some peaches. TheyÕre freestone I see, give me about four peaches?
EM: The big ticket item here is that youÕre buying farm direct, youÕre cutting out the middle person. The market is here set up and the farmer comes and you come and meet the farmer and you buy direct and thereÕs nothing else getting in the way of that transaction. So youÕre getting it fresher and you both save a little.
SB: The primary customer in a farmersÕ market is the farmer. The most important thing is that we make them profitable so that they can be able to provide us with good healthy local food and also be able to then allow us to have this community event that brings people together.
Chris Hurdle: IÕm the fourth generation farmer in the family, IÕm the third generation on the farm that weÕre on now. We used to be dairy farmers, grain farmers, hay farmers and all three of those have gone in the tank and farmers markets just took off and we get 75% of our income from farmers markets.
EM: People love to meet the farmers and find out whatÕs going on and it really helps them find out why for example strawberries are three weeks late, well, you know, the farmer is there saying, well, itÕs been raining and I need so many of hours of sunlight for them to ripen and IÕm not getting it and people learn that way. You talk to a farmer and you can learn the difference between the different blueberries or the different blackberries and you donÕt learn that necessarily in a store.
Ron Bonney: People want to know me and eat my food.
Ron Bonney runs Rainy Way Farms in Hillsboro, Oregon.
RB: They recognize the name and they want to buy from us because weÕre somebody, weÕre not just Safeway, a corporation.
Buying produce from local farmers is also a health issue. Kaiser understands that and their Thrive Booth is a central feature of the market.
EM: Well, now weÕre heading toward the Thrive Booth and letÕs see what they have in here today. Oh, jump rope, a number of books on cooking, Ultimate Juicing, Moosewood Cookbook, The Field Guide to Produce – a great book, Healthy Snack Treats and Snacks for Kids, oh and a kidsÕ gardening book too.
Linda Fuller: My name is Linda Fuller and I work for Kaiser at their health resource center. Kaiser is very interested in encouraging people to take responsibility for their own health and get into some healthy living habits, particularly in the areas of nutrition and exercise, and so we like the idea that itÕs local and that itÕs fresh and in a lot of cases organically grown.
EM: Kaiser is an economic force in the neighborhood. TheyÕve got hundreds if not thousands of patients coming through every day, many of whom live in the neighborhood. You know if they werenÕt buying here, they might just be eating some fast food or something.
Before the farmersÕ market came to this neighborhood there was no place to buy fresh food within walking distance. Now people can walk or take the light rail to the market.
EM: YouÕll see bicycles and youÕll see dogs and youÕll see kids in little radio flyer carts. ThatÕs one of the really nice things about the neighborhood farmers markets. ItÕs making food accessible on a neighborhood level.
SB: Over 100,000 people come into these farmersÕ markets in the peak of the season. We have an opportunity to connect them to the land and to the importance of the farmers as being stewards of that land. If we donÕt support them, we could lose that ability to be able to feed ourselves and also to have the beauty of Oregon around us.
Heidi Nichols: We need to have a connection to the land we live on.
Heidi Nichols is one of the managers of the Reed Community Garden in SE Portland.
HN: Children need to learn to see that food comes from the ground, that if you donÕt take care of the ground and the soil, your food will suffer as a result and kids need to realize that their food comes from the ground, not from the grocery store.
Steve Shaft: ItÕs a miracle that you can plant a seed and it starts off and itÕs just this tiny little plant and then all of a sudden ssphloom! It becomes huge.
Steve Shaft has a tiny farm in Scappoose, Oregon, about 25 miles north of Portland. Right now itÕs late spring and he is selling vegetable starts at the Tigard Area FarmersÕ Market in the parking lot of a large mall a few miles southwest of Portland. Later in the season heÕll be selling produce as well as plants. Steve, like the other farmers who are at the market on this Sunday morning, not only sells things. He also provides his customers with lots of free advice about gardening.
Steve: Watermelon care?
Customer: Is the growing on the inside is better? Inside of the house?
Steve: You could but youÕll need to figure out some way to get insects in or hand pollinate it because the fruit needs to be pollinated in order to grow fruit. ItÕs like any squash or cucumber, theyÕre all part of the same family, they produce male flowers and female flowers and there has to be some way to get the pollen from the male flower to the female flower or you get no fruit. One way inside, you just take a paint brush and take it from one and put it on the other, you knowÉ
A couple stalls down from Steve Shaft, Ron Bonney is also selling vegetable starts.
RB: Right now weÕre finishing up on our cauliflower, broccoli, lettuces and stuff. We have lots of winter squash starts and cucumbers, melons and of course our peppers, tomatoes, herbs and flowers. I started out in a co-op when I started gardening and selling just like $900 a year, but I just kept growing and growing and the farmersÕ market enabled me to start out small and grow and which now IÕm farming full time. They are a way for small farmers to have an outlet and to get a full price for our product instead of taking what a processor will give us, and they donÕt deal in small quantities. I make my living off of 12 acres. I need to do this sale. $1.50, want that in a bag, sir.
Steve Shaft: I try to encourage people as much as possible to grow nice plants and I give them nice things to grow and I try to have a stand where people can come and they can literally plant their whole garden right here. You can have a nice vegetable garden with whatever you can buy from me.
SteveÕs customer: How much are those in those pots down there?
Steve: Well, the ones down there in those pots, except that one over there, those are five, that oneÕs ten, this oneÕs ten. And the difference is these have tomatoes which youÕll be eating in two weeks. It probably has 50 tomatoes on it already.
Customer: I think IÕll take that one. . .I have about ten or fifteen tomato plantsÉ
Steve: But you wonÕt have tomatoes in a couple of weeks.
Customer: ThatÕs worth it.
Steve: If youÕre like me, I canÕt wait for the first tomatoes off the vine.
Customer: Fortunately the farmersÕ market gives us a lot of opportunity to have wonderful tasting food, but thereÕs nothing like growing it yourself.
Steve: ThereÕs nothing like growing it yourself.
Leslie Pohl-Kosbau: Once a week IÕll go to my farmersÕ market in my neighborhood, that we started
Leslie Pohl-Kosbau with the Portland Community Gardens Program.
LPK: and that will supplement what IÕm growing in my garden, because I may not be growing eggplants in my garden this year, or maybe my crop failed and I know I can go to the farmersÕ market and get it, or talk to the farmer about how their crop has failed and learn from each other. And I think thatÕs a sustainable relationship that we share those things in common. It builds that kind of bond between country and city as well.
Reed Gardener: So you want to plant some beets somewhere?
ItÕs a Saturday morning in early June and a group of neighbors are working their plots in a corner of the Reed Community Garden on the Reed College Campus in Southeast Portland.
Marilee Dea: IÕm Marilee Dea and IÕm one of the managers at Reed Community Garden. When I leave my house I come here, this is my yard.
Marilee wears a tee shirt that says ŌGet Dirty.Ķ SheÕs a public health nurse and long time community activist, who lives just a few blocks from the garden.
ItÕs quite a lovely place to be and itÕs a lovely place to garden and itÕs quite large. ItÕs 150 gardens here.
LPK: The Reed Garden started, I think it was 1976. There was a large space and had been actually a berry field many, many years ago but it was a grass field at that time. It was a wonderful open site. ItÕs just fabulous when you go out there and the sky is enormous and itÕs just a beautiful place to be with lots of wildlife as well. Of course, a garden does attract wildlife. Lots of birds, hawks, bees.
MD: People stroll through this garden and get inspired. ItÕs a place to go thatÕs quiet and they can see how food is being grown and what flowers are blooming and just can relax.
LPK: I canÕt think of any other place where I would have met so many people who are pretty much on the same wavelength.
Leslie Pohl-Kosbau with Portland Community Gardens
LPK: We have fundamentalist Christians, weÕve got gay and lesbian folks, weÕve got people who have lots of income and people who donÕt have any income at all or very little. WeÕve got people who have tremendous amount of education and other people who have very little education and yet the garden is a place where everybody can be together and experience each other in close proximity, just that wonderful mix and fabric of people that you would never have had experience with.
MD: You know, I garden around people who have been gardening here at least almost as long as I have and IÕve been here for 17 years. 20% of the people are related to Reed in some way and then we have people from Vietnam and Russia and China and Mexico, all different kinds of gardening and all different kinds of crops are growing so itÕs very rich and a place to learn about how to garden and how internationally people garden.
The Reed Community Garden is one of 30 community gardens sponsored by the city of Portland Parks and Recreation. Leslie Pohl-Kasbau helped create the program.
LPK: In Portland in the 1970s there was a lot of back-to-the land, do-it-yourself kinds of things that were going on. LetÕs fix our cars, letÕs grow our own food, there was a whole movement to have a rethinking of government and more citizen participation. Everyone was all very excited and infused with energy to do lots of grassroots kinds of things and community gardens seemed to be one of those things. There was some casual arrangements of people gardening vacant lots, they were using some of the city of Portland land, with permission. Since there were three sites already established on city property the neighborhood association came to Parks and Recreation and said, would it be possible if you could organize a more formal kind of program around community gardens and really make it more available to more people. Then I was at the right place at the right time as a horticulturalist for the city of Portland and I was asked if I could do this, and jumped at the chance and said, yes, this is something I really want to do, I really feel passionate about this. IÕm thankful the community gardens has actually continued from that era and has blossomed and grown all over this country.
Heidi Nichols: Part of what is really important is to get people back to realizing that the great rush that we seem to be in all the time now is not necessarily making us a better society.
Heidi Nichols is another Reed garden manager.
HN: Perhaps weÕd be better off to take an hour or two every day and work in our gardens.
LPK: IÕve seen it time and time again that when people are gardening, especially community gardening, because they also have the social benefit there as well as the physical benefit, they live longer. People whoÕve lost their spouses or partners find that they can make a new relationship with the garden and themselves and with other people and themselves. The other thing is that it cuts down on obesity. If I werenÕt gardening I might be three times this size, I donÕt know.
HN: Another good thing of community gardens is they help to teach people to eat seasonally. WeÕve grown awfully used to in the United States in particular, eating whatever we want whatever time of year it is, rather than eating whatÕs available normally in our area at that time of year. Particularly as the price of oil skyrockets it would behoove us to learn to eat that which doesnÕt have to be transported a million miles. Things that come directly from your garden or from the farmer have a far different taste than things that are transported 1,500, 2,000 miles and picked when theyÕre not ripe. There are lots of things that if theyÕre picked when theyÕre not ripe, they donÕt ripen any further and so their taste never improves.
MD: It really gets you in tune with how much rain and when is it cloudy and what is the weather going to be and many of us garden all year round and thereÕs things to do in the garden all year but it changes.
LPK: Part of community gardens is learning about nature, because weÕre touching earth, weÕre seeing earthworms and insects, weÕre seeing what makes the stuff of life. The greenery is a network that interlaces the city and it provides corridors of sanity within a very busy built space. The gardens provide that wonderful psychological respite for a person who doesnÕt even do a garden, who can walk by and go, oh, there are the gardens, this feels really good. ItÕs something thatÕs triggered that may be very old in us but it also might be the future as well, that the green space, the activity, the whole biology and botany thatÕs going on there is a human need.
For thirty years the Reed Community Garden has been a neighborhood institution but now its future is shrouded with uncertainty.
MD: Reed is thinking of taking this garden back after thirty years so people are concerned that they donÕt want to start enriching their soil just to have it go underneath a dorm.
Heidi Nichols: One of the things that Reed has been concerned with, they say, is how valuable the property is and yet they donÕt seem to be aware that open space as the city becomes more and more dense is of at least as much value as filled space with dorms. Reed has not filled the existing dorm space that they already have. So far the demand hasnÕt been such that they really need to build more dorms. The students seem to like the garden. They seem to enjoy wandering through it and taking it as a step away from the intensity of their studies. So I would think that leaving the garden to the students would be as least as valuable as building more dorms for which they havenÕt indicated an interest.
MD: Many students graduate from here and go into building urban gardens or doing green space work or doing sustainability projects and I think theyÕve been inspired by this garden.
Laura Shaffer: I first visited Reed as a high school student as a prospective college student here and I stayed in the dorms right here by the gardens and I saw the gardens and I thought that they were actually a Reed College project, so like wow, this is really the kind of school I want to go to. They really value the community around them.
Laura Shaffer majored in biology at Reed and graduated in 2003. She now has her own plot in the community garden and is a garden manager.
LS: This fall IÕm moving to Massachusetts to start a masters program in landscape architecture, that was partly inspired by the garden. I really saw here how green space could build community and could increase sustainability and I want to spread that.
For several years now Marilee Dea and other garden advocates have been meeting with Reed College to negotiate the gardenÕs future. But the president of Reed still remains determined to build a dorm on top of the garden.
MD: One of the things that the president said is that he didnÕt see there was any educational value in having a community garden and it didnÕt really fit the mission of Reed College.
Emanuel: WeÕre very hopeful that weÕll be able to work with the board of trustees here at Reed to preserve the garden
Emanuel recently moved to Portland from Berkeley, California.
ES: but if not, weÕve already started to organize people in the community to come out and save the garden. This is the largest community garden in the city and community garden is essential, not just for food security but as an educational resource cause we are in the near future we are going to have to be growing more of our food locally, thatÕs just a fact and community gardens like this are going to be vital. ItÕs a selling point for Reed. They can attract more students with a big community garden like this.
Not far from the Reed garden are the headwaters of Crystal Springs, a small creek that flows through the campus, on its way to its confluence with Johnson Creek, where we started our story.
LPK: Reed has done a wonderful job of reclaiming the Crystal Springs area. They once had a swimming pool and they removed that. TheyÕve added native plants. TheyÕve done a lot of clearing to promote the return of species, birds and other animals. ItÕs a beautiful site and theyÕve really done a great job for the community and the Johnson Creek watershed of which it is a part and it would be to their benefit and to the communityÕs benefit to see the garden continue in some form on the campus and compliment that watershed restoration.
The Reed Community Gardeners find themselves struggling against old attitudes that are hard to change, but just a ways upstream along Johnson Creek, Steve Johnson has found that his educational efforts and stubbornness are beginning to pay off.
SJ: There was this incredible beaver dam right across from where weÕre standing. One day a rogue engineer, working for the City of Portland was working on a failing sewer line upstream and decided he had an hour left and he saw that beaver dam and he just came down and he wiped it out all in about ten minutes. I was angry but I just called up the city of PortlandÕs Bureau of Environmental Services and said, your engineer came down and wiped out a beaver dam that we were expecting to use in our environmental education programs in schools, so weÕre kind of upset. I made a couple of other calls but I really didnÕt do much and what was astounding about this was I was, I was put on two TV stations, three radio stations. The director of the bureau had to apologize publicly, the commissioner in charge of the bureau apologized publicly and eventually the rogue engineer was fired from his job. We were astounded and IÕm sure if the beavers were there they were probably astounded to realize how much commotion they had stirred up. If this had happened fifteen, twenty years ago, it wouldnÕt have gotten any notice. It indicated to me just how far we had come in a cultural shift with watershed sensibility and outlook.
What surprised Steve Johnson even more was how this story has percolated over time through various city agencies.
SJ: Three or four years ago there was two transportation
workers out in front of my house from the city of Portland, and we had a little
conversation and the worker in the passenger seat looks at me and goes, are you
the Beaver Guy and I admitted that I was the Beaver Guy and then they said,
wow, we always wanted to meet you because we always wondered how you could get
fired from the city. In the city of Portland now thereÕs a myth at least or
story line thatÕs transmitted between bureaus that says, oh, youÕre about to go
work out in Johnson Creek, well be careful, be good stewards, these people are
watchful. You may get fired if you do the wrong thing.
SJ: You canÕt say that all the change has taken place, all the trees are planted, all the fish are back. But you know youÕve changed the value system of the way people look at that watershed and it doesnÕt just happen in the same way as a new regulation will happen. It happens at the heart and deeper level where people eventually change their values.
LPK: If we think about the green space in our city, as our gardens, as things that we care for and nurture, then we think of the city as a city that is a garden.