High tunnels extend growing season for Portland farmers – Statesman Journal
The Cully neighborhood isn’t one of Portland’s celebrated areas, yet. Crime, poverty and neglected properties leave it a bit rough around the edges.
But an influx of self-described “homesteaders,” not hipsters, is transforming the northeast Portland neighborhood into a hotbed of urban farming. The Side Yard Farm & Kitchen, founded by chef-turned-farmer Stacey Givens, is an example of that.
On an acre that once held an abandoned house, garbage and blackberry vines, Givens grows culinary herbs and organic vegetables for 14 high-end Portland restaurants, runs a catering business and hosts “nomadic” suppers for like-minded chefs, foodies and other friends.
Givens, who farms two other reclaimed city lots within a couple miles, said the business is making a profit.
“We’re doing pretty good, I have to say,” she said.
She has an unexpected partner in the venture: the USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Service. Using a $2,200 grant from NRCS, Givens purchased and installed a “high tunnel” hoop house on her newest site, at Northeast 48th Avenue and Simpson Street. The tunnel extends her growing season.
“I started tomatoes at least a month before I usually do,” Givens said. This winter, she expects to continue herb and vegetable production under cover.
Providing such direct, on-the-ground help is an intentional policy shift by NRCS. Since 2008, the agency has helped farmers install 139 high tunnels in Oregon, at a program cost of $830,000. Funding comes from the Farm Bill.
Extending the growing season in Oregon can conserve energy by perhaps reducing the amount of produce trucked into the state from California, said Dean Moberg, an NRCS basin resource conservationist for the Northern Willamette Valley and Northern Oregon Coast.
The grant program is open to all sizes of commercial food producers but specifically benefits smaller, diverse forms of agriculture that haven’t benefited from USDA programs in the past, Moberg said.
“That’s exactly it,” he said. “We’ve all seen the growing trend to local food production” such as farmers markets, CSA subscription farming and grocery stores aligning with local growers.
“The general public is more and more interested in where their food comes from, and they want to buy fresh, local food,” Moberg said.
Farmers can find a niche in local food systems, he said.
“Many of them are smaller operations, family oriented, and lot of them are new farmers, people who didn’t grow up on farms,” he said.
“And some of them are urban — it’s kind of a cool thing.”
The program isn’t for someone who wants to put a high tunnel in their backyard, Moberg said. Grant recipients must be involved in commercial food production; it’s not for people growing nursery plants, housing livestock or sheltering machinery. “It’s oriented to growing food in the ground,” he said.
Farmers who are interested in the grant program should contact their local USDA service center.
For Givens, the Side Yard Farm & Kitchen owner, the high tunnel solidifies her business and its connection with some of Portland’s top chefs.
The high tunnel is filled with tomatoes this summer, but she grows unusual herbs such as Rau Ram, a Vietnamese coriander, and purple Shiso, a relative of the mint family used in Japanese cooking. She grows cilantro, allows it to bolt, and sells the green seeds to chefs at $20 per small container.
In Portland’s edgy, experimental restaurant scene, it’s a ready market.
“It’s crazy,” Givens said with a laugh. “A lot of chefs I used to work with say, ‘Plant me this.’
“To me, herbs are everything.”
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