In 2009 three friends, Alissa Hartman, Dreya Mancini and Janette Kaden, frustrated by the limited space for vegetable gardening their small urban yards offered, and excited about the community building potential, decided to grow food their own way. Each of these friends chose a number of vegetable varieties to grow and then shared the abundance, ensuring them the bounty they desired. Realizing this was a great way to take advantage of small garden spaces in their urban environment, they put out a call to their community to join them in their fruitful endeavor. The response was enthusiastic and with a group of about 12 members, The Urban Farm Collective (UFC) was born.
Lisa Koluvek, Kaden’s neighbor offered her extra urban lot as a space to garden and Koluvek garden, on the corner of NE 7th Ave. and NE Skidmore St., became the first official plot of the UFC. In those early days, planning meetings were frequent and well attended; people were eager to share their ideas about how to create more abundant vegetable production in the city. Getting these busy and ambitious pioneers into the garden was more challenging. Janette, also the owner of a popular local restaurant called The Tin Shed, became interested in the potential for supplying the restaurant with produce grown blocks from it’s front door. Others became interested in growing food to sell and supplement their incomes.
Between the Koluvek garden and the personal gardens of the original members, excess vegetables were produced. These vegetables were then sold on the garden patio at The Tin Shed where a small produce market was open to the public. Sales were low and tensions arose as the members decided how to split the meager profits. It became evident that the UFC was not going to provide much income through selling its produce and the restaurant required more produce than the collective could grow, to the tune of thousands of pounds. There were economies of scale at play and the process of developing a better way began.
After that first garden season, it was clear that involving money only created stress in an environment that was otherwise a great community builder. In the winter of 2009 the UFC decided to switch to a barter market for the next year’s growing season. Instantaneously the tensions from the year before fell away and the UFC’s mission started to come into focus; to build community and address issues of food justice in the city. Members earn slugs through volunteering their time or donating a resource such as land or water. Land-sharers receive 100 slugs per season while water-sharers receive 50 slugs. One hour of time spend volunteering earns a member one slug.
Determining the value of each fruit and vegetable grown and exchanged in this way proved to be the most difficult challenge. Should the prices related to actual cash prices in the market? How much time would one have to work in the collective to earn enough produce to get by until the next market? Should the prices by determined by the amount of land it takes to produce the vegetables? Pumpkins weigh a lot more than lettuce? And so it went for months. Ari Rosner, a self described ‘numbers guy’ played a key role in determining barter values for each fruit and vegetable. Eventually, each fruit and vegetable at the market had an assigned value to be exchanged for a member’s barter currency, which we affectionately referred to as “slugs”.
In 2010, the UFC grew to four urban plots. Participants delivered organically grown produce to Kaden’s front porch where a modest, weekly barter market ensued. Trades were tracked on pieces of scratch paper and food was given freely to folks walking or riding past the front porch. The following year, with the addition of three more gardens, for a total of seven, the barter market moved to the parking lot of the Masonic Lodge in the Mississippi district. Prices remained as they were set the prior year and the tracking system was still rudimentary, but functional. Holli Prohaska, an original member, became the barter market manager and continues to oversee the functions of the market today.
The fourth year, with the addition of four more gardens, for a total of 11, the market moved to its current home at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in the heart of the Alberta Arts District. One of the now 14 N/NE gardens, Common Bond, is located on the church’s property.
In 2013, due to the increased popularity of the market and the long lines that resulted, the value of produce at the barter market changed, in a moment of clarity, based on weight. Vegetables and fruits were divided into their categories: light, medium and heavy. This system streamlined the system and allowed for a shorter wait time in the market line.
|Weight||Pounds per Slug||Examples of Produce Items|
|Light||1 lb. = 1 slug||Lettuce, kale, chard, bok choy, spinach (leafy greens)|
|Medium||1 lb. = ½ slug||Carrots, beets, radishes, beans, tomatoes*, turnips, kohlrabi, potatoes, small zucchini, cucumber|
|Heavy||1 lb. = ¼ slug||Winter squash, large zucchini, pumpkins, melons|
|Other||½ lb. = I slug||Herbs|
As many of the members of the UFC have a variety of skills, talks about expanding the barter market occur regularly. One member of the planning team, Corinna Chase, was successful in fermenting and bottling kombucha to bring to the market in 2012 and 2013. Other ideas for barter include arts and crafts, value added products such as jam, sour kraut and herbal preparations, and even services like massage, acupuncture, car repair and clothes mending.
With this rapid growth, the need for a more formal system to track the barter exchanges was in order. Ari Rosner, active in the Community Engagement Committee at the Alberta Cooperative Grocery when he joined the UFC, volunteered as a working member, took on the role of treasurer. Rosner, along with Stephen Osserman, a UFC grower began to refine and systematize the barter exchange system.
Osserman created an online interface where garden managers and administrators could upload the hours of their apprentices, working members and themselves. At the market, the members used their slugs to acquire their produce. Prohaska and other market helpers could then load the used slugs onto the interface. The used slugs are taken from the total amount of acquired slugs and the balance remains. This interface is still used today and is reported on yearly to assess yields and distribution of food.
We had the good fortune of growing more food than would be exchanged through our barter system. So it was decided to donate the excess food to the St. Andrew’s Church on NE Alberta Street. This church hosts our weekly barter market, is close to many of the gardens and is extremely engaged in the betterment of its community. The produce donated by the UFC is distributed to clients of their food pantry. This donation counts for a majority of the fresh produce that the church is able to share.
In exchange for the produce, St. Andrews gives the UFC space for the market as well as a place to hold meetings and workshops. The UFC hopes to encourage more parishioners and food pantry clients to volunteer in the gardens. In 2013 UFC members attended church meetings and sent fliers home with food pantry clients but had little success in recruiting volunteers. Both the UFC and St. Andrews look forward to future, more engaged collaboration.
After the first year, the UFC took on a “1000 hands” approach to its volunteerism. As the number of volunteers and donated garden plots grow, the UFC continues to develop a more refined structure. In it’s first year, participants were either on the planning team or in the gardens. The second year, folks took on roles such as treasurer or grower. Later, committed working members became Garden Mangers or apprentices depending on their level of knowledge and commitment. Member roles are added and evolve as the project grows in scale and scope.
Angela Goldsmith, Garden Manager of the Fargo Food Forest, connected the UFC with the Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust (OSALT). Through this relationship the UFC gained 501(c)3 nonprofit organization status. OSALT is an organization that keeps land in trust to be used for sustainable agricultural practices. The UFC now has two gardens under OSALT trust. As OSALT focuses on research and education, the UFC aligns its mission to stress garden based learning.
Land sharers are able to receive tax deductions for land donations and well as additional liability insurance because of the relationship with OSALT.
The North Portland Tool Library works just like a library. Instead of lending books, this library lends tools. As tools are expensive and some gardens are lacking in certain tools, the Tool Library is an extraordinary asset. Some tools that are expensive are only needed during one part of the season, such as a broad fork. Being able to borrow such tools allows the UFC to save funds for other needs.
The Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. works to promote successful women in the trades through hands on education in the trades. During each training session, the women in classes build structures for local non-profits. The non-profits donate the resources for building. The Urban Farm Collective collaborates with Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. and in so receives infrastructure such as tool shed, produce boxes and garden beds.
Sustainable Agriculture Practices
Susan Weinke, a member of the UFC since its infancy, implemented a collective crop rotation practice within the gardens. Each garden is given one to three plant families, depending on its size, to focus their production on. In sustainable agricultural practices this promotes healthy soils and deters pests. Garden Managers are given space to grow vegetable varieties of their choice as well as companion plant with the given plant families to promote plant health and use space wisely.
To work with the Urban Farm Collective one must uphold the sustainable agricultural practices it promotes. This includes rotation of plants, the use of compost as fertilizer and the use of natural methods for as weed and pest control. No artificial chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides are allowed on UFC land.
Garden Managers are free to implement their own garden practices as long as they fit within UFC guidelines. Some gardens implement permaculture practices while others use techniques used in biodynamic agriculture.
While the UFC relies mostly on scavenging resources and materials and donated time and energy some funds are needed to cover costs such as seeds, compost, mulch and one time costs such as signage. The UFC seeks funds through the grants, fundraising events and donations. The UFC received their largest grant in 2012 from the “Seeds of Change” organization.
By 2013, there were 14 gardens in N and NE Portland. We begin getting inquires from folks in other parts of the city, interested in the collective model. As organizers from other communities began to get interested in perpetuating the UFC mission in their neighborhoods, the UFC offered up its model and infrastructure to assist in the process. The UFC defined each new neighborhood as a “node”. Community members from the Peninsula and SE Portland became eager to start collectives in their neighborhoods. The Peninsula node brought on two gardens in its first year and the SE node brought on one. Both neighborhoods are working to establish a localized base and barter market.
As the UFC expands, figuring out ways to help new nodes become autonomous is a priority. A lot of hard working dedicated volunteers make the collective what it is today. A community with the same priorities is needed to create such success. The UFC wants to help more neighborhoods in Portland and cities around the world realize the benefits, from gaining access to delicious produce to making great friends, of growing food in our own yards. The UFC welcomes help from other community building organizations in Portland such as the Northeast Portland Tool Library, St. Andrews church and Oregon Tradeswomen and would not be as successful without them.