Oak Grove resident David Kerr is the man behind David Kerr Violin Shop in SE Portland. His shop has has been in business since 1976, and is the preeminent destination for violins on the West Coast. From rental violins to the rarest works of art created by luthiers, it’s the place to go.
Along with his partner, artist and architectural designer Bob Abbott, his father Chuck, and two good neighbors, David manages over an acre of property in Oak Grove that he calls a garden, and we call a farm. To see it at the height of the season, with its bees flying and chickens chattering, it is clearly a piece of land that is lovingly worked and provides generous bounty for its tenders.
When did you move to Oak Grove and why?
My partner Bob and I moved to Oak Grove 16 years ago from the city for land. Gardening is in our blood and a small lot just did not work for us. We found the former Richard Groener property and fell in love with the wooded landscape and year round stream.
What were some differences between Oak Grove then and now?
When we first moved out we did not know many people and there did not seem to be a sense of place. We always put down our address as Oak Grove but everyone else we met used either Portland or Milwaukie as the address. They both work, but we liked the ring of Oak Grove. Now there are signs up that designate the area and there seems to be much more recognition and pride in the area. We have also met many artists and small business owners and various characters. The area is rich in talent and I think most people would be surprised at who lives here.
Your partner Bob and yourself have traveled extensively and experienced many cultures. In your opinion, what are a few things necessary to create a sense of “community”?
Well the things that would really help would be to have a viable downtown with a good grocery store like New Seasons and at least one really good restaurant. My fantasy is to have a top notch restaurant, a great pub, a good grocery store, a wine store and a copy of the cheese board ( a cheese store in Berkeley that is on par with ones in Paris ). If we could have access by walking or riding a bike to an area like that it would make a destination area where people would gather.
The single deterrent to community in Oak Grove is the blight of McLoughlin Blvd.
1. The run down buildings in disrepair reflect a lack of community pride and economic success.
2. New buildings often have no continuity with other buildings and are architectural zeroes. The new development in Portland sets a high standard of design and imbues forward thinking (positive progress).
3. McLoughlin needs street trees and island plantings with restricted turn lanes.
4. The lack of zoning provides for low-class chaos. It is impossible to grow community or personal pride living here with the obvious void of governmental vision.
What are a few aspects of living in Oak Grove that you think might be hard to come by elsewhere?
In terms of Portland there are more interesting neighborhoods though you would never find the large lots in those neighborhoods that we have here. As far as the country is concerned we live in Paradise just don’t tell anyone.
The lack of zoning provides for low-class chaos. It is impossible to grow community or personal pride living here with the obvious void of governmental vision.
Your father lives in the community at a retirement community. What has it meant to him and you to live near each other in Oak Grove? How has your relationship changed since you both moved to Oak Grove?
My Dad lives at Rose Villa which is a fantastic retirement community with graduated care. The grounds are like living in a park with flowers everywhere. Their new food hall is really a restaurant and their cook is really a chef. They have the best woodworking shop anywhere and he spends a lot of time making furniture and fixing things. They even have garden plots for those who want to raise their own veges though since it is only a mile away from our place he does his gardening with us. He is at our place on average four days a week so I get to see a lot of him which has been a great gift.
You and your partner share quite a large garden with your neighbors. Does living in OG cultivate/encourage urban farming?
The properties tend to be larger than the urban lots but we both had a gardens in the city when we lived there. I don’t think OG has anything to do with it, but for those who are interested in gardening OG is considered the banana belt of Portland. In fact our bananas are all flowering this year. So with the slightly warmer weather we have, our veges tend to grow larger and the season is slightly longer than even Portland. I have also noticed that driving in to work OG is often sunny when Portland is shrouded in clouds.
Tell us about your farm. What do you grow?
I think of it more as a vegetable garden than a farm. It is 3/4 of an acre though. Spring: asparagus, artichokes, kale, spinach, peas, fava beans, lettuce. Summer: 22 varieties tomatoes, three varieties potatoes, six varieties eggplant, corn, onions , cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, trying black garbanzo beans from Afghanistan this year, blue corn for flour, beets, Swiss chard, carrots, 8 varieties of peppers including the amazing red and yellow marconi’s, raspberries, cascade berries, tay berries, currants, elderberries. Fall: six varieties of winter squash including the rare and delicious Catalon de Plana which I am happy to share seeds with anyone, pears, apples, quince, persimmons, plums, my first Goji berries this year, pomegranates. Winter: my first winter garden! Six varieties of kale, cabbage, carrots, onions, lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, olives. Then we have eight chickens and 17 bee hives.
Do you know other growers in OG? Is there a nucleus of farmers here?
I know a number of people with normal sized vegetable gardens but don’t know any farmers.
What do you hope to see happen for Oak Grove in the next 5-10 years? What kind of businesses do you hope will join the downtown area?
First of all I would like to see the light rail line go past Oak Grove so I can walk to the stop. Second, I would like to see several great restaurants come into the area. Third, It would be great to have a local New Seasons or Market of Choice so we don’t have to drive to Sellwood or Lake Oswego for groceries (if we needed some!)
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