“There is a need to bring life into the city, so that its poorest inhabitant will have not merely sun and air, but some chance to touch and feel and cultivate the earth.” – Lewis Mumford, 1961
Zenger Farm is a small sanctuary saving the food system from surrounding urban sprawl. The farm practices sustainable agriculture with a biodiverse, three-year crop rotation and chicken maneuvering for manure fertilization and insect control. The delicious smell of bread from a local bakery wafts in the wind. Traversing the 16-acres of Zenger Farm one could almost forget that poverty looms in this diverse, outer SE Portland neighborhood. Then a siren bellows down adjacent Foster road and breaks the scented, sustainable serenity.
The City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) purchased the century old Zenger Farm in 1994. The solar powered farm, market, CSA and educational initiative offer a progressive model of sustainable, urban agriculture. In 1999 local residents formed the nonprofit organization Friends of Zenger Farms to address the problem of food insecurity. Jill Kuehler, executive director, offers the statistic that 24% of the area’s residents identify themselves as food insecure. According to the Community Food Security Coalition food security means that all people in a community have access to culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate food through local, non-emergency sources at all times.
Friends of Zenger Farm responded to food insecurity by establishing the Lents International Farmer’s Market, a unique Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and an open-air classroom. The Lents Market is providing a low-income neighborhood with access to healthy food. The market features crops and vendors from locations as diverse as SE Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe and Latin America a place to sell their goods. Hmong immigrants from Laos also operate plots at Zenger Farms. Perhaps their most impressive food security building project is their pioneering CSA model. To address the problem of an ordinarily 600$, seasonal, upfront payment Zenger accepts weekly payments in food stamps. “We are hoping to set an example for the rest of the nation,” Kuehler remarked. Additionally, the organization established the Healthy Eating on Budget Program to teach parents how to shop for and prepare healthy meals on a limited budget.
“Youth education is at the core of what we do here”, explained Kuehler. The open-air classroom provides 5,000 local students with experiential learning in environmental stewardship, community building and sustainable agriculture through field trips and summer camps. Zenger engages the community further by welcoming an astounding eight hundred volunteers every year. Volunteers trade their time to care for forty laying hens in exchange for eggs, honey for maintaining beehives and Thanksgiving turkey. “It is great for urban people to experience where their food comes from and get their hands dirty,” Kuehler exclaimed.