WORDS & ILLUSTRATIONS: KATE WEINER
A project of the Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, the Urban Farms Collective is an exercise in growing the community of those that have access to fresh, affordable, food. With 15 locations and counting in Portland, OR, the UFC uses a barter economy to generate sustainable change in our food culture. This entirely volunteer-based organization has steadily grown since it was founded in 2009 by Janette Kaden of the damn good biscuit and eggs breakfast spot, Tin Shed. At its inception, just eight people were mapping out the gardens and managing the land. This year, about fifty individuals consistently work the gardens and many more come by to help in the weekly harvest.
I recently sat down with Urban Farms Collective volunteer Holli to talk a little bit more about this innovative initiative and left deeply inspired by this organization. As Holli shared with me, the intention of the Urban Farms Collective is to make sure that everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, has access to healthy food. At UFC, money never exchanges hands. For every hour that you work, you can take home freshly harvested food from the UFC's weekly barter markets. The UFC regularly collaborates with food pantries in Portland for its farmers markets as well, ensuring that food doesn't go wasted. A portion of the food is donated to Sisters of the Road, a homeless shelter that operates a coffee shop and restaurant committed to serving nourishing food and drink for about a buck each. In a modern American landscape marred by massive food waste, UFC's approach is not only refreshingly novel, it's necessary.
At the end of the day, everything that grows in UFC's many gardens goes right back into the community. UFC is in this sense a labor of love. Maintaining its foraging food forests--small pockets of bounty growing in otherwise neglected spaces--requires extensive volunteer support. At the Greeley Food Forest, for example, the amazing water system that keeps this highway-thriving food forest grounded is donated by a local water coalition. As UFC proves, food justice manifests itself in many forms. Abandoned properties hold the promise for long-term sustainable growth, and neighbors are often more than willing to put in the work necessary to converting their community into a productive, nourishing landscape. Every year, more land is donated to the UFC, expanding their capacity to grow good food and provide sites of connection.
As UFC notes in its mission statement: "we strive toward a closed-loop system of garden management which provides all inputs; compost, fertilizer and seed within the collective gardens, eliminating the need to enter the cash for goods economy. We are righteous scavengers!" It's a noble goal, and one that I hope inspires you to challenge food waste and embrace sustainable land use in your own corner of the universe.