As the local food and DIY gardening movement gains steam, many locals have dived right in by planting edibles and raising chickens. Oak Grove and surrounding neighborhoods such as Jennings Lodge and their large lots and acreage, make gardening a logical choice. From box gardens in front yards, chicken coops in backyards, and lawns being ripped out for gardens, Oak Grove is attracting more “urban homesteaders” that want to live off the land and grow their own.
This same spirit has also been extended to a local school. Which makes perfect sense.
At Schoolyard Farms at Candy Lane Elementary in Jennings Lodge, unused grassy areas have been transformed to thriving, edible gardens that not only feed the community but help educate students on how to grow their own food.
Launched two years ago by Courtney Leeds and Justin Davidson, alumni of the popular Zenger Farm, Schoolyard Farms expanded existing box gardens started by the school and has grown to include a half-acre on the side of the school.
The farm was originally Singer Hill Farms, which launched four years ago at the school and flamed out when it couldn’t meet the demands of its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Last year, Leeds and Davidson were looking for land to farm on when they saw a notice on a local Portland online discussion group from the school. The deal was that the school would provide the land and water and growers would provide education to students. The partners jumped at the chance and starting immediately ripping up sod and planting edibles.
By having the garden at the school, kids can get an education about farming, health and nutrition, get out of the classroom and even get a math lesson (one teacher uses the box gardens for addition/subtraction lessons).
“Kids love being outside, and were willing to be out here during the winter, weeding,” said Davidson. “We’re looking for rain gear for them. The school is Title I and many of the kids can’t afford the extra gear.”
In addition to educating the kids, rain or shine, at school about where their food comes from, how to grow it, and getting their hands in soil, the farm also donates produce to the Head Start in Oregon City where the produce gets cooked – and some of it goes back to the school, to students.
The farm is non-profit and broke even last year. To break even this year and to continue to educate the students, the farm is selling shares of its produce through a CSA. (Customers buy shares and receive 24 weekly shares of fresh, responsibly and locally grown vegetables.)
The ultimate goal of the farm isn’t a CSA but to be a direct food source for the cafeteria. The plan is that they’d grow food and the school’s cafeteria would use it in meals for the students.
Local neighbors benefit as well. Many stop by and ask questions, are curious about some of the growing techniques and are generally in support of the garden.
“Most schools have plenty of unused land. We’d like to see more schools do this sort of thing,” adds Davidson.