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Let players in the food movement share knowledge

(post, Harriet Fasenfest)

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Oh gosh I love when I read about someone who, through initiative and hard work, transforms a vision into reality. A friend of mine, [/user/mcmusser "Chris Musser,"] just started the Lost Arts Kitchen. A  recent article in the Oregonian_ shows her flourishing, and that makes me happy. I know how difficult it is to believe in yourself enough to take a risk. But we never do these things alone. All along the way it is our friends and family that move us forward. 

Which is another thing I love to see — collaboration and a spirit of mutual respect.

With so many like-minded people coming together to tackle the issues of sustainability and alternative models of food production, distribution, and consumption (the basic notion behind a healthy local food economy), it is hard to know who is who and what they are all doing. I’ll admit, I don’t even know them all, and I’m in the field. 

Sometimes that is because I keep my head in my backyard and kitchen, and other times it is because we, as a new emerging community, are not always as communicative as we could be.

I chalk some of that up to being busy: starting any new venture takes time. But I also see some of our failings attached to the notion of competition and, specifically, holding ones cards close to the chest for fear someone might co-opt our ideas. Honestly, I know the drill and fight it all the time. I hate the notion of proprietary knowledge. I’ve been seeing it all around me for awhile and some of that has to do with the hard reality that some ideas do get co-opted by others without any respect to the ideas and thoughts they are building on. 

With regards to corporations, the people who troll for creative ideas are called (no kidding) “cool hunters,” and I think they suck. But we are not them, or I’m assuming we are not. So let us not act as though this movement can be built on anything other than total communication and mutual respect. We are all just building on the wisdom that has been around for centuries but simply forgotten. Let’s not act like we are inventing anything new or that we are better for being protective with our knowledge.  

On that note, let me be the first to offer my body of knowledge to any inspired, hopeful, and risk-taking dreamer out there. If there is anyway my own experience or fellowship can support what your are doing then just give me a call or send me a note via my Preserve website. I’m here and am happy to meet you. We can do it all ourselves but it’s better when we work together. 

Of course, if you do glean knowledge from others, acknowledge it and pass it on. Remember the folks who help along the way and credit the knowledge you receive from those who have given it. That’s basic.

Now let me tell you about other folks, programs, and business that are out there doing interesting stuff. Some I know personally and some I have only heard about — not directly from them but on the wind. Of course, firsthand knowledge is always best and to that end I will start with the starts — plant starts and nurseries I personally know and love.   

Buffalo Gardens

First on the list is my very good friend Sandra Galli who owns Buffalo Gardens on NE Alberta. (That's her photo above.) After seven years in business she just got her website up which shows you what a marketing dinosaur she is. But that is why I love her and why it is so refreshing to go to her small(ish) nursery.  

There are very few chotchkes there. Instead you will find a small selection of great tools, great plants, and great advice — just about all that you really need (yes, even nurseries can sell stuff you don’t need).

But lest you think I am promoting her business because she is my friend, think again. Sandra became my friend over the years as a result of her goodwill and generosity. She was my go-to person when I was first starting out in food gardening. Honestly, she might well be one of the most patient people I know, not to mention knowledgeable. No, you can’t take classes on gardening there but if you are a self-starter (in my opinion self starters are the only ones who will really learn anything) and have a few questions she is there to answer them.  

And because she focuses primarily on edible plants (and has done so way ahead of the curve) she is someone who knows of what she speaks. Make sure the person selling you your plants or giving you advise is a food gardener. Sandra definitely is. I used to have my Preserve space in her nursery space but that was just happen chance. Neither of us could have occupied close quarters were not for our high-beam focus on soil health, food security, quality and taste (we were both in the restaurant world for a while).  In other words, Buffalo Gardens is the real thing, and you will never feel handled when you go there. 


Another nursery I like going to is Pistils. Even though the gals there are somewhat more ethereal in nature, they got the right stuff. Actually, having established my primary plant relationship with Sandra at Buffalo Gardens I never had to look to Pistils for too much advice, but they are very knowledgeable. They grow their food and raise bees are are “of the fold” so to speak. Furthermore, I love the quality of the plants they offer and often find the type of ornamentals I cannot find other places. Most importantly for me, they are a very small business on Mississippi that took residence way before all the fancy-pants funniness took over (I think you Portlanders know what I mean). 

Garden Fever

Another Portland nursery I like is Garden Fever. Yes, they are a little bigger and often feel more like a garden museum then shop (I go there often to browse), but they do have a committed and knowledgeable staff. Still, I suggest you seek out who among them is the vegetable gardener (if that is your thing). I have heard someone there suggest a Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin to a woman who admitted to having a very small backyard garden. Of course it could be I nosed in at the wrong time, but it was hard to keep my mouth shut (no asides please!). Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins are only good for those who have room in their gardens as well as house since pumpkin vines will eventually move in — honestly, those things will creep. That aside, there are lots of quality vegetable and ornamental plants there and all in excellent health and vigor. 

But perhaps my favorite thing there are the great classes they offer (many of them free), particularly with one of my favorite gardening instructors in town, Glen Andreson (as a disclaimer, he is also teaching classes at Preserve).

Glen has been growing food for over 30 years, most of it in his small backyard garden in Northeast Portland. Whenever you see his name associated with a class, take it. Or at least do so if you want to get straight-ahead information about growing food or bee-keeping or fruit pruning or whatever else he is teaching. He is the real deal and has been teaching, writing (Portland Alliance) and broadcasting (KBOO) for a long time. He has his devotees and for good reason. He is a refreshing minimalist and uses the type of tools you can often find in the Goodwill versus Smith and Hawken; now that is the sign of a real gardener. He knows enough to make do with what he has.

Growing Gardens

If you live in Portland and you don’t know Growing Gardens, you SHOULD. There, I’ve scolded you, but I had to. If there is one non-profit you should give your time, cash, or expertise to it is this one. You can find lots of information about their program online; do keep an eye out for their gardening and food preservation classes. Their class fees go to supporting their programs, which is a very good thing. 

The Fruit Tree Project

Another non-profit that offers classes as a way to raise funds is the Fruit Tree Project. Run by a bunch of young, committed folks, the Fruit Tree Project not only offers opportunities to glean fruit in the community (those who have neglected fruit trees can register them there for gleaning), but classes on how to prune fruit trees and preserve what you glean. Yay for that. What’s the sense of having a box full of fruit that goes to waste? Preserving the bounty for use during the year is the heart of food security. The more people teaching these skills the better.  

Ariadne Gardens 

Another stellar group I know of is the folks and gardeners at Ariadne Gardens located on NE 11th off Fremont. More a collective than a business, Ariadne garden is part of OSALT (Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust) and is open to the public for buying produce on Tuesday and Saturday. 

More importantly, though, it is open to those who are willing to work in exchange for food. And way beyond the frugality factor is the enormous body of knowledge you will gain in the process because the women there (Kim and Betty particularly) are probably some of the most committed gardeners I know. And when I say committed I mean in spirit and effort. I admit they are the two people who can shame me for staying too long in my own garden and not enough in theirs.  

Not that they want to but because I always feel I should be there when I’m not. So do me a favor and go there and volunteer and learn what you cannot almost anywhere else. The hands-on knowledge will be invaluable. Not that anyone is going to stand over you to teach anything specifically but rather, over time, and with your on-going involvement, you will watch and witness a healthy, ecologically balanced city garden at work. 

Sauvie Island Organics 

If working in the garden is not your thing but supporting those who do is, then you will be happy to know that “Sauvie is now taking on new members for their Community Supported Agriculture program. Sauvie Island Organics (located 15 minutes from downtown Portland) has been growing organic produce for over a decade and in many ways was a leader in the effort. Were it not for the fact that I’m locked and loaded with my own produce (and those of my friends) I’d definitely sign on with them because I have heard such good things about their produce. And since they had been previously closed to new membership, I would get on it right away if you are at all interested; I’m sure the slots will fill up quickly.      

The Urban Growth Bounty 

As for programs I have only heard about, there is a series being offered by the Office of Sustainability that I think holds some promise. The Urban Growth Bounty series (great name by the way) appears to go a long way to give folks what they seem to be hungering for — the knowledge to live more sustainably in the city. I’m impressed by the scope of their program and think they are getting the whole-life picture of this movement. Still, I think it is prudent to mention that even in this movement, folks will be getting on board as teachers when they are truly only one step ahead of you. That is fine, I suppose, as long as you know who they are and where they got their chops. It does make a difference.  

So there you have my first installation of whose who and what’s what. The more I learn about the more I will share. I will be starting a more formal newsletter at Preserve so sign up there if you want to keep abreast of what we, at Preserve, and the community at large, is doing. I’m sure that for those of us with our eyes on the horizon and hands in the dirt, 2009 will be a busy, fertile, and productive year.