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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Portland, OR-based Urban Farm Seeks to Spread Sustainable Ag through Education and Healthy Food

July 3, 2013 |

Members of Zenger Farm Shares Community Supported Agriculture program pick up their produce at the farm, courtesy Zenger Farm.

Members of Zenger Farm Shares Community Supported Agriculture program pick up their produce at the farm, courtesy Zenger Farm.

Portland, Oregon’s Zenger Farm is striving to be a national model for urban, sustainable agriculture education while meeting the needs of people in its backyard: the low-income neighborhoods of Lents and Powelhurst-Gilbert.

The urban farm works to provide sustainable food and agriculture education, food access, and support for emerging food businesses in the area.

Though the farm is not currently certified, plans are underway to pursue organic certification within the next year, according to Sara Cogan, Farm Manager for Zenger Farms. Sustainable agriculture methods used on the farm includes drip irrigation, strict avoidance of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and creation of habitat to support diverse populations of beneficial insects.

The farm does not apply compost on a large scale, but maintains a flock of laying hens, which are rotated throughout the fields to control weeds and enrich the soil. Two 4,000 gallon rain harvesting tanks meet all of the potable water needs within the farmhouse. The farm also adheres to a strict crop rotation method.

““We have a pretty elaborate crop plan, which means we have no member of a crop family in one field no more than once every five years,” says Cogan. “This helps to minimize pest issues and helps to maintain soil quality.”

Organic soil amendments that the farm employs include feather meal, a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer, and lime, a ph-balancer.

Swiss dairy farmer Ulrich Zenger, who operated under the name Mount Scott Dairy, founded the farm in 1913. Upon his death in 1954, the farm was transferred to his son, Ulrich Zenger Jr., who lived on and operated the farm, but did not maintain it as a commercial enterprise.

Before his death, Zenger Jr. began exploring ways to preserve the farm from development. The land was purchased in 1994, five years after the death of Zenger Jr., by the City of Portland. A Friends of Zenger Farm group was established in 1999. The group created a master plan for the farm, obtained the city’s approval, and secured a 50-year lease with the city to operate the farm as a community education center.

Educational programs include hosting over 8,000 students annually for field trips and summer camps and family education programs that teach ways of eating healthily on a budget.

Zenger pioneered the practice of accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as payment for CSA shares, and developed a 27-page guide, “The CSA Farmer’s Nationwide Guide to Accepting SNAP/EBT payments” to help farmers to help them do the same. Zenger also accepts SNAP at farmers markets and at it’s onsite farm stand.

“As the market for CSAs becomes more saturated, SNAP opens a brand new revenue stream for farmers by making the shares accessible to a new and eager audience,” says Haley Nesser, a public relations representative for Zenger Farm.

Zenger also launched an Oregon SNAP CSA Farmers website to help SNAP participants locate organic farms willing to take SNAP as payment for shares, and a webinar, in partnership with eOrganics, to train farmers on taking SNAP/EBT. Zenger expects to train 400 farmers by years’ end in farming techniques, as well as business and marketing skills.

Zenger also actively works to cultivate emerging food businesses in the community. An Outer Southeast Training Project works to help would-be urban farmers in the neighborhoods to launch farms. Zenger hopes to train 80 individuals and convert five vacant lots to urban farms in the next several years.

Zenger also provides space for immigrant farmers to grow their own produce and sell it at the Lents International Farmer’s Market.

Zenger’ biggest challenge is securing enough physical space for its expanding programs. The farm’s newest initiative is to build a $1.9-million, 7,760 square-foot “Urban Grange” to provide space for community gathering and education, as well as kitchen space for food business startups. Zenger has raised $700,000 for the project so far.

“Grange halls are gathering places for rural communities to support one another in times of need and celebrate the bounty of the land,” Jill Kuehler, executive director of Zenger Farm, said in a press release. “The Zenger Farm Urban Grange will be Portland’s healthy food and community hub, enhancing access to affordable, plentiful and nourishing foods.”

A diverse mix of public and private funding sources supports Zenger Farms. Fees and product sales accounted for about 23% of Zenger’s 2012 revenues. Foundation grants contributed another 22%, and the remainder included a mix of government grants, corporate and individual donations, and fundraising revenue.

For the future, the farm hopes to continue to grow and reach more people locally and nationwide.

“By embracing sustainable agriculture, Zenger is an example to its neighbors how they can supply healthy and nutritious foods to their families and communities for generations to come,” says Nesser.

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