Mercy Corps Northwest: New American Agriculture Program NAAP

November 23rd, 2009
Not quite ready to eat...

Not quite ready to eat...

Carrots are most often associated with spring and summer but the prime season for Oregon carrots is late summer through early winter. That’s Suleyman Idrisov photographed above of Southwest Portland’s two-and-a-half-acre Hayat Farm. He’s showing off some of his just out of the dirt, several weeks shy of harvest carrots, for a story I did about him for the Portland Tribune a couple years ago.

Idrisov was born in Uzbekistan, and moved to Russia when he was 16 years old to escape ethnic persecution. Idrisov and his family are Meskhetian Turks, a displaced Muslim population originally from Meskheti (now the country of Georgia). Russia proved difficult as well, so in July 2005 Idrisov, along with his wife, children and sister, sought asylum in Portland.

Idrisov had worked as a farmer in Russia, and shortly after arriving in Portland he learned of Mercy Corps Northwest’s New American Agriculture Project, or NAAP. NAAP educates and assists refugees and immigrants in the Portland and Vancouver, Washington area in establishing small agricultural businesses by leasing local farmland.

In the spring of 2006, Idrisov planted his first American crop of fruits and vegetables on NAAP’s organic certified Hayat Farm — leased from the 60-acre Malinowski Farm. Idrisov pays 10 percent of his revenue to Malinowski Farm for use of the land, while a large portion of his remaining profits are funneled into savings.

Suleyman Idrisov of Hayat Farm

Suleyman Idrisov of Hayat Farm

Idrisov speaks very little English (we had a translator for my story) so when he sells at various farmers markets around town he lets his vegetables speak for themselves which is in part why he’s known as the “beet king.” Idrisov adds that in 2007 the title shifted to “turnip king.” because of his purple-top globe turnips. You can find Idrisov’s Hayat Farm carrots, radishes, cabbage and more at the downtown Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays and at the People’s Cooperative Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

Latest NAAP Happenings:

In 2009 NAAP broke ground with its first CSA on land donated on a lot just south of Westmoreland Park. The previous blackberry and weed infested lot is now a vibrant and productive organic garden cultivated by three Nepalese refugee families. Visit the Mercy Corps Northwest website for more information about the Westmoreland Vegetable Box.

Another recent NAAP development is the Damascus training site established to help train new farmers and launch new farm businesses. Larry Thompson of Thompson Farms in Damascus donated individual half acre and acre plots of his 100-acre farm to NAAP participants.

Damascus site participants have access to $1,500 start-up grants from Mercy Corps Northwest while they learn to budget for expenses such as land, tillage, water and seeds. As participants successfully manage their businesses they can qualify for additional capital from Mercy Corps Northwest. NAAP participants market their organic produce through farmers markets, farm stands, churches and other diverse channels.

For more information about NAAP check out a story I wrote for the Portland Tribune as well as this Edible Portland story.

Mercy Corps Northwest New American Agriculture Program
43 SW Naito Parkway (In September Mercy Corps Northwest moved to this new location)
Portland, Oregon

Portland Fruit Tree Project — No Fruit Left Behind

October 19th, 2009
Although citrus doesn't grow so well in Portland (unless you have potted trees that you bring indoors in the winter) all sorts of fruit does and Portland Fruit Tree Project's mission is to make sure good fruit gets to good people.

Although citrus doesn't grow so well in Portland (unless you have potted trees that you bring indoors in the winter) all sorts of fruit does and Portland Fruit Tree Project's mission is to make sure good fruit gets to good people.

I remember hearing about Portland Fruit Tree Project when it was just a seedling in 2006 and thinking it was a brilliant idea. Now it’s not just a brilliant idea it’s a thriving non-profit dedicated to harvesting fruit that would otherwise be left to fall and rot and getting that fruit to folks who need it. In addition to harvesting parties during the summer and fall (when fruit from all over Portland is collected and sorted) from January through spring PFTP also hosts various workshops on fruit tree pruning and maintenance.

I met up with 30 year old PFTP executive director Katy Kolker — who started PFTP with her friend Sarah Cogan in 2006 — a few months ago at the organization’s old office and ever since then I’ve run into her at all sorts of food and farm events around town. Her mom owns the very cool Looking Glass Bookstore in Sellwood and she immediately offered to put in a good word for me for a book reading there when Food Lover’s Guide to Portland comes out in the spring.

Kolker was working as an AmeriCorps volunteer for Growing Gardens in 2006 and living in Northeast Portland when she came up with the idea that grew into PFTP. Month after month Kolker would watch fruit in and around her neighborhood go unharvested and turn from ripe to rotten. She approached a few households and asked if she could harvest their trees. Everyone Kolker approached agreed so she organized a group of about 10 people that season to help out. Since then that’s been the PFTP mode of operation — seasonal harvest parties from summer through fall throughout Portland.

PFTP harvest parties take place on weekends and weekdays usually from July through November and generally begin mid-morning and run for two to three hours. The 10 to 15 reserved harvest party spots fill up fast and there is usually a long wait list weeks in advance. Participants meet at a site where PFTP ladders, fruit picking poles and milk crates for packing the fruit are provided.

Once the fruit is picked and sorted the group moves to another nearby site to harvest. For now fruit is collected in a pickup truck that follows the group from site to site but eventually Kolker hopes to utilize cargo bikes for fruit transport. The best quality fruit goes to the Oregon Food Bank and its hunger and relief agencies and the rest is distributed amongst the tree owner and volunteers.

Kolker is quick to add that, “The intention of our program is not to be feeding the food banks. A large part of our programming is to empower people to see their community and the urban ecosystem as a potential food resource and to be an avenue for people to access those resources.” For this reason half of the harvest party spots are reserved for low income folks.

In June 2009 PFTP moved to its new location on North Killingworth with onsite composting, tool storage a demonstration garden and offices.

Portland Fruit Tree Project
1912 NE Killingsworth St.

Home Orchard Society Arboretum

April 29th, 2009
Dreamy Pink Lady in full bloom

Dreamy Pink Lady in full bloom

Sometimes rain — even at the end of a long sopping stretch of days — is magical. In this case it made for some very ethereal photos of Home Orchard Society Arboretum manager Karen Tillou. Yesterday I took a trip south to Clackamas Community College home of the HOS Arboretum and met with Tillou. We snuck in and out of the tool shed (rain and more rain) for a couple hours talking about fruit trees, shrubs and vines, the history of HOS and why I should use an ale or a cotes de blanc yeast the next time I make hard cider. It was a great day and worth the trek. The HOS Arboretum is always in need of volunteers so if you or someone you know has time to thin, weed, prune or harvest for a few hours in upcoming months the 1.6 acre arboretum is a great place to lend a hand.

In the shed

Tools of the trade

Home Orchard Society Arboretum
Open year round 9am-3pm Tuesdays and Saturdays
Contact: Karen Tillou 503.338.8479
Find directions here

Give gardening a chance: Oregon Food Bank

March 31st, 2009
Not bad for a mid-March harvest

Not bad for a mid-March harvest

A couple week’s ago I started my volunteer practicum for the OGCP that I took this fall. I’m planning to volunteer with several different food/gardening organizations in town this year so I can learn as much as possible for the book while helping out. A couple weeks ago I volunteered at Oregon Food Bank’s Eastside Learning Garden.

Dig In! is an ongoing early spring through late fall program at Oregon Food Bank’s two Portland learning gardens for which volunteers of all ages help weed, prune, sow and harvest food for various local relief agencies. If you’ve ever been to the Northeast Portland DEQ you were just a stone’s throw from Oregon Food Bank headquarters and its next door 17,000-square-foot Eastside Learning Garden.

For my morning shift — on a Thursday 9am to noon — we met up in the barn, introduced ourselves (nine or ten of us), discussed what needed to be done and then did just that. I started off by pruning a young but sprawling grape vine with a seasoned OFB volunteer and then for the remainder of my shift harvested several rows of big and healthy collard greens planted late last summer in between the chicken coop and the berry brambles. We composted the critter munched and slug slimed lower leaves and left plenty on the stalks for a staggered harvest.

There were mothers and daughters planting peas, others pruning raspberries, and folks removing over-wintered cold frames from raised beds until everyone came together a bit before noon to rinse and box the morning collard and beet harvest. When all was said and done several buckets full of fresh collards and beets were hand-carted just a few steps away to Oregon Food Bank headquarters where they’d soon be repacked and distributed to various local relief agencies.

Although I won’t be back for awhile now due to a significantly sliced and bandaged right ring finger (apparently my kitchen mandoline doesn’t differentiate between radishes, apples, carrots and fingers) once I’m shovel-in-the-soil ready again I’ll be back to lend a hand. There’s a lot to be done in the OFB gardens this spring and it’s not a huge time commitment.

Another way that local green thumbs can help out with OFB is the Plant a Row for the hungry program. I’m thinking about doing that too…

Eastside Learning Garden
7900 NE 33rd Drive

Westside Learning Garden

21485 NW Mauzey Road

Harvesting collards

Harvesting collards