I’m standing next to an under-used, empty grass field at New Urban High School in downtown Oak Grove with the school’s principal Noah Hurd on a cold December day. Come March, the half-acre blanket of lawn will be replaced with freshly planted edible starts, teaming with students digging up soil, and on the path to a school and community farm. By summer, leafy greens will be growing and gathered for a CSA (community sustained agriculture).
Thanks to a new partnership with Schoolyard Farms, an organization that farms on unused school lawns and works with kids on food systems, the new farm will help teach students at the high school about growing food, managing a CSA, hands-on lessons related to farming, small business management, and getting a better understanding where their food comes from.
Schoolyard Farms does this by building “mini-production” farms on underused schoolyards that act as outdoor classrooms for the schools they serve. At Candy Lane Elementary School, Schoolyard Farms has seen great success with a similar set up at their premier farm.
For the New Urban farm, co-founder Courtney Leeds says the goal is to replicate what they’ve done at the elementary school but tweak the program for the older high school-aged students. “We want to work with the kids to help run the farm,” said Leeds. “Many of the students are already talking about food systems in class – and now we can show them.”
Leeds says she’d like to see the farm evolve into many different things, such as a farm stand in front of the school where students gain entrepreneurial skills, operation of a CSA, and eventually providing food to the cafeteria and surrounding restaurants.
Principal Hurd echoes Leeds’ enthusiasm and vision. Students at New Urban are involved in Youth Take Action, a community service program, and the farm lends itself into that. Interest from staff, an impressive area/coop where students raise chickens and sell the eggs, and composting food scraps from the cafeteria all complement the missing component for a more focused farming effort.
“I always wanted a school garden but wanted something bigger than a typical garden,” said Hurd. His interest had him reaching out to the state’s school farms department asking for similar models to connect with. “They told me there was someone right in our backyard and pointed me to Schoolyard Farms at Candy Lane Elementary. From there I met with the principal, visited the farm and a relationship was made.”
A real, working farm in the neighborhood
Right now, the goal is to raise funds for the New Urban farm from now until March of 2016. Schoolyard Farms needs funds for the start-up capital for the farm, including basic infrastructure materials (a fence, hoop-houses, irrigation, tools, seeds, etc.), marketing and merchandising materials and staffing.
Once initial capital is raised, the farm will sustain itself on produce sales and low-cost after school classes and camps. Reaching their fundraising goal of $20,000 will allow them to serve vegetables grown on the school farm in the cafeteria and create a space to hold farm-based summer camp and after-school classes for New Urban students and interested community members.
And thanks to an extremely generous offer from the Biggs Family, if the organization raises $5,000 between now and the new year, the family will match it with $5,000. Any sized donation will be doubled.
If all goes according to plan, the CSA will start accepting registrants in February. Expect to see lots of greens, salad mixes, snap peas, and radishes in early summer. Oak Grove residents (and surrounding communities like Milwaukie and Gladstone, and even Portland) are encouraged to participate, volunteer and support the farm.