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City dedicates S.E. land to aid immigrant farmers

United States, November 25, 2009

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David F. Ashton

The Portland Bee
November, 2009

It was a crisp, sunny morning on Tuesday, October 6th, when a handful of officials and neighbors gathered at a vacant lot in Inner Southeast Portland, just across the street from the Clackamas County line and the City of Milwaukie.

The occasion marked the formal transfer of management of the property east of 3405 S.E. Sherrett from the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) to the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS). Working with Mercy Corps Northwest, the BPS will develop an income-generating opportunity for Nepalese farmers.

“We are taking an unused piece of property, at the very edge of the City of Portland and Multnomah County, and putting it into urban agricultural,” Mayor Sam Adams explained to THE BEE before the program began. “Immigrant farmers will be planting organic produce for their own use, and also selling it at the local farmers market.”

The lot, Adams added, has long been on the books as surplus City land. “Because it is in an awkward location, it’s not suitable for park land. But, it is great for agricultural production within the city.”

After introductions of the dignitaries on hand, Adams began, “First, I want to acknowledge and thank Commissioner Dan Saltzman for his early pioneering leadership on ‘Eatable Cities’. The strategy was very groundbreaking, if you’ll pardon the pun, in terms of getting the city to get clearer on what property that it needed and didn’t need, and to put the latter into agricultural use.”

BES Sustainable Food Program Manager Steve Cohen later also commended Commissioner Saltzman’s efforts to build community gardens. “He enlisted a group of Portland State University students to do a project that inventoried to all city-owned properties; looking at them for their viability for urban agriculture. This property was one of those properties.”

Cohen added, “This is another ‘Victory Garden’ in what I think is the Mayor’s most ‘green’ vision – growing food, and being able to make our city more food secure, and giving residents in the city of Portland every opportunity to be able to grow food.”

David Beller, with Mercy Corps Northwest, stepped up and said, “We’re helping immigrants and refugees start small farms in the Portland area. We find it offers a full range of benefits to individuals and families – providing economic health and psychological benefits. A lot of people we work with have limited education and limited job possibilities; so this is really helpful for them right now.”

His organization is promoting the concept of using land underutilized in Portland, whether it’s owned by the City, private landowners, or churches, and getting those lands into agricultural production, Beller added.

“We really don’t want townhouses or condos built right behind us,” Jennifer Dillan told us after the formalities. “The property is right for infill housing, but this is even better for this use.

Dillan, who works for Mercy Corps, said she brought the overgrown property to Beller’s attention. “He took the ball from there; and made it all happen. It’s taken a year or more, but, here we are; it’s being kicked off.”