By Kelly Merrick, Portland Farmers Market
Farmers market season is in full swing in Portland, a time where farmers and local food artisans transform empty parking lots and streets into temporary markets, tables overflowing with fresh produce, flowers and goods, eager to welcome neighbors.
The average distance Portland Farmers Market vendors travel to market each week is 50 miles. For some farmers, that number peaks at 300 miles, but for a small but growing selection of farmers, their trip can be as short as just a few miles.
In 2012, the City of Portland updated its urban food zoning regulations to “support growing, buying and selling food at a scale appropriate to residential neighborhoods.” As a result, there are are fewer financial and regulatory barriers stopping those wanting to start “market gardens,” or urban farms, as a way to earn income and provide fresh, healthy food to neighbors.
Stewart Heath made such a transition when he started Fennel Urban Farms in the Cully Neighborhood this spring. He is a vendor at the Woodlawn Farmers Markets and farms a quarter acre, split in two between his backyard and a small plot of land on nearby property owned by Northeast Baptist Church. He travels just under four miles to market each week.
Heath started a backyard garden in 2007 to help feed his family fresh, nutritious food, and has the same intentions for his customers. He believes supporting urban farmers like him who focus on growing nutrient-dense, local food in Portland communities also supports human health and the environment.
“We live on a planet with limited resources in a delicate balance,” Heath said, emphasizing that it is important to consider food producers key players in that balance. “This can be obtained by paying a fair price for food that is produced to be nutrient-dense, that heals the earth and your body.”
Urban farmer Michael Barnett, who owns Red Truck Homestead, a one-acre urban farm in the backyard of his home in NE Portland’s Cully Neighborhood, has a similar approach to his farm. He puts considerable energy into his farm to ensure the food he grows is as healthy and flavorful as possible, in addition to traveling as little as possible. He travels just over five miles to the Woodlawn and King Farmers Markets each week to sell a variety of fruits and vegetables, and sells specialty crops to local chefs focused on sourcing locally.
Barnett says the benefits of operating an urban farm far outweigh the challenges. “I love this city and the way they eat,” he said. “The healthy eating foodies & chefs and farmers markets in this town are our anchor.”
For more information about Fennel Urban Farms, Red Truck Homestead and other area urban farmers, visit PortlandFarmersMarket.org.