Zenger Farm turns former stormwater management site into fertile farm field in Lents

See how this urban agriculture organization benefits – and Lents neighbors do, as well – from this interesting extension of their farmlands …

Volunteers with Zenger Farm hand weed this plot to help the crop from their first spring planting succeed, at Furey Field in the Lents Neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While Zenger Farm, right on SE Foster Road, is easy to see from the street – you won’t stumble across their newest acquisition, called Fuery Field, by accident.

Zenger’s newest farmland is on SE Reedway Street between SE 117th and SE 119th Avenue – unpaved roads, with tire-swallowing potholes.

But the poor roadways didn’t stop some 75 friends and volunteers associated with Zenger Farms, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), and Portland’s government from finding their way to Fuery Field on May 14, to celebrate its dedication.

Jill Kuehler, Executive Director, Friends of Zenger Farm says this farmland will be used in their Community-Supported Agriculture program.

“We’ve been trying to get this property for a long time,” smiled Jill Kuehler, Executive Director of Friends of Zenger Farm.

“We finally worked it out with the City so we could expand onto this land,” Kuehler explained, adding that their land lease is for 2.4 acres of the lot’s seven acres.

The Fuery family lived on and farmed the land for decades; the City purchased it about the same time it bought Zenger Farm – primarily for stormwater management, and for the wetland components of the properties.

Mr. Carrot (it’s really Zenger volunteer Jon Wagner) and Ms. Peapod (Lyndsey Mackenzie) serve as mascots, and also promote the Lents International Farmers Market at the event.

“Here, we can expand our Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs,” Kuehler continued, saying that people “buy into” a CAS by paying a fee at the beginning of the growing season, and week-by-week get a share of the crops produced.

“The difference with this CSA,” Kuehler pointed out, “is that we will be accepting food stamps. We’ll also accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for CSA shares; SNAP clients can pay every week and still participate in the program.”

In the front field, volunteers were weeding the nascent crop. In the “back forty”, others were pulling blackberry bushes. And, to the east, visitors were examining the newly-set- out Portland Community Garden space.

Parks advocate Linda Robinson and PP&R Community Garden program director Leslie Pohl-Kosbeau celebrate the opening of the Fuery Field Community Garden.

The longtime director of the PP&R Community Gardens, Leslie Pohl-Kosbeau, who will be leaving the position on June 30, said she was excited about this newest garden.

“This is our 37th Community Garden in Portland,” Pohl-Kosbeau beamed. “Fuery Community Garden will offer about 40 plots here.”

She was enthusiastic, she said, because there isn’t another community garden within walking distance of this one. “I’ve looked at this property for years, and we finally were able for make a partnership with the Zenger Farm and the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) to site a community garden here.”

A community garden is great for the individual who wants to try gardening. “Here, they can experiment, to see if they really like it,” Pohl-Kosbeau said. “If they continue to really like it, and become a farmer, they can transition to working with Zenger Farm. And, PP&R offers free classes in every quadrant of the City.”

Kevin Atchley, one of the owners of Pine State Biscuits, serves up another tray of their signature dish to hungry volunteers. “We’re volunteering here today because we really believe in their cause, and I really like what they’re doing here,” he says.

Part of the land will remain as it is, for stormwater abatement. The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services is building rainwater swales to catch the runoff from SE 122nd Avenue. When Pohl-Kosbeau checked the plot during the winter storms, it didn’t flood, she said.

Outer East Portland’s parks advocate, Linda Robinson, now a PP&R board member, was also pleased with the installation. “I think this is really fabulous; there’ll be a lot of demand for it. This is a working-class neighborhood, and there are many apartments nearby; they don’t have a place where they can grow plants and vegetables. This garden is really needed.”

Jill Kuehler gathers folks for the dedication ceremony of Fuery Field.

The official dedication was delayed because Portland City Commissioners Saltzman and Fish were late arriving – dashing across town from participating in the 49th annual St. John’s Parade.

Outgoing director of PP&R Zari Santner vamped for time, saying, “If Commissioner Fish were here, he’d talk very eloquently about his passion for community gardens, and for providing healthy foods for citizens.”

Santner told the assembled group that the City’s Community Garden program has been in existence for over 30 years. “It has all been done through the passion and commitment of Leslie [Pohl-Kosbeau].”

PP&R’s director Zari Santner says the Community Garden program was originally seen as a form of recreation.

When the City started it, Santner said, the garden program was seen as a form of recreation. “Some people like to garden recreationally by being in nature and getting their hands dirty. Now, it’s turned into a movement focused on providing fresh, healthy food.

“It’s wonderful to see that evolution leading to something like what is happening here,” Santner continued. “This site is a great example of how various bureaus and organizations come together to achieve multiple goals and objectives. In addition to serving as an area for flood control, it’s wonderful that this can also serve as a community garden, a CEA garden, and a park.”

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman says the project is a good example of collaboration among City bureaus and a nonprofit organization.

Kuehler told the assemblage that Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, formerly in charge of PP&R, had helped them get the project off the ground. “It wouldn’t have happened without his incredible foresight and effort,” she said, as she introduced him.

The commissioner in charge of BES, Saltzman told how that agency purchased the land many years ago for flood control. “Although we couldn’t do what we intended to do with the site, we were approached by Zenger Farm about leasing some of it for their CSA program. We’re really pleased to be able to do that.”

Saltzman concluded, “This a great collaboration between neighborhoods, Zenger Farm and in the City of Portland to be able to turn this [land] into an outstanding community benefit. I’m pleased to be here today and watch this as it happens.”

With that, it was time to cut the ribbon.

George Fuery, who grew up on and farmed the property, cuts the ribbon – along with Arma, Jean, Alex, and their kids – using plant clippers, of course!

Kuehler added later that they thank the Portland Development Commission Community Livability grant program for providing the funding to make the Furey Field a reality.

To learn more about Zenger Farm, see their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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