The Urban Farm Collective, an interview with Kim Schenk

A few months ago, I went to a Slow Food potluck where everyone brought a dish to share made from good, clean, fair food.  Since I didn’t know anyone there, it took a little courage to walk into the event with my dish, a Spanish tortilla omelet (in case you were wondering!)  Fortuitously, I ended up sitting next to the lovely Kim Schenk, garden manager for the Urban Farm Collective.  While we ate, we talked a lot about local food and the work she does with this amazing organization.  What they’re doing is ingenious–pulling together a community to grow and provide fresh produce right in the city.  Since there is no money exchanged, it makes organically grown food accessible to anyone who participates.  But I’ll let Kim explain it all.

OFS: Kim, tell us what the Urban Farm Collective is all about.

Kim: The Urban Farm Collective’s mission is to bring neighbors together to transform vacant lots into neighborhood food gardens for the purposes of education, research, community building and improving food security. We are a rainbow of individuals who have a love for food and community and who are passionate about the local food movement. Plus produce grown at home just tastes better!

OFS: As a garden manager, what does your job entail?

Kim: My job entails a number of duties. Hauling compost, building beds, sowing seeds, irrigation, weeding and land maintenance, harvesting, processing, and packing are all part of the duties of being a garden manager. All of the UFC gardens look unique, as it is up to the manager to design the plan. Permaculture techniques are common. Some of us are planting by the moon ( biodynamic ). All of us are organic gardeners.

OFS: How many gardens are currently in production with the UFC?

Kim: There are currently 15 urban gardens, and we are always accepting more space. A collective spin-off has been designed in St. Johns, and we are currently seeking land in southeast Portland. Each garden has a manager and a couple apprentices. If you have land that you would like to see converted into a neighborhood food garden, consider sharing it with the collective!

OFS: That sounds intriguing.  So if I have some extra garden space, tell me about the benefits of sharing.

Kim: The benefits of sharing your land are many. First, you may qualify for a property tax exemption. Second,  you will no longer incur the costs of  maintaining your land. We take full responsibility for the installation and up-keep of the garden. Third, you will receive enough produce barter shares to shop at our market all summer (June 1st-Oct 31st) for your super local organic fruits and veggies. Lastly, you would be an integral part of our mission to bring neighbors together, build community, provide educational opportunities and improve urban food security. We carry liability insurance for your protection, although we are happy to report that no one has ever been hurt in a UFC garden.

OFS: Could you tell me more about the requirements for sharing garden space and how I’d go about sharing it? 

Kim: The requirement is a minimum of 1,500 square feet, has a minimum of 7 hours of sun exposure every day and access to a water supply.  Email the Urban Farm Collective today to share your land with the community.

OFS: So if I were to share my land, what happens to the produce grown in my garden?

Kim: Everyone involved with the UFC, from volunteer administrators to land sharers to gardeners exchange their contribution for the collective produce at a produce barter market. Significant contributions earn a weekly, community supported food box. Significant contributions are defined as weekly visits to the gardens, planning, and land sharing. Other contributors earn one barter share for each hour they contribute to the project. Water sharers earn a monthly food share. Our goal is to grow twice as much as we need to feed collective contributors so that we can donate the remaining 50% of our produce to the St. Andrews food pantry, serving over 200 people per week with food boxes.

The weekly produce barter market is open from June 1st-October 31st, on Monday evenings, from 6-7pm in the St. Andrews church parking lot on NE 9th and Alberta, the parking lot is behind the church between NE 8th and 9th Ave.

If you would like to earn barter hours by working at the produce barter market, contact Holli Prohaska.

OFS: Wow, the Urban Farm Collective seems to have an ideal model that benefits the whole community.  At this point, what is their greatest need?

Kim: I would say our greatest need ( on a physical scale ) is compost! To get fully broken down dark and ready compost from a local resource that doesn’t use steroids and antibiotics can be challenging. More sites and participants would be helpful too! I see in the future a beautiful large greenhouse with electric windows and a thermostat. But for now we have a wonderful hoophouse that serves its purpose perfectly. We get tons of support, from Janette ( the founder ), our volunteers, and the community in general. I feel like I have a very supportive family in the UFC.

OFS: There seem to be many facets to your job. What would you say is your favorite thing about working with the UFC?

Kim: My favorite thing is that I get to do something that makes me forget to look at the time. It reminds me that photosynthesis is a miracle, and I get to witness nature’s perfect balance every time I get in the garden. It is my calling to grow and feed. I worked on a solar powered farm in northern California and grew thousands of pounds of food. I no longer needed a watch at all. Nature is my clock. She literally told me when to sleep, when to wake, when to plant, when to water. The harmony and peace that arises when cultivating is something that rings true in my heart. Our current food system versus the current food movement are not congruent. People are hungry, people are dying of obesity. We are more malnourished than ever. And we don’t have to be. So my reason for working with the collective is very deep-seated and complex, but the simplicity of sharing the harvest is at the core of why I volunteer.

OFS: Kim, thanks so much for taking the time to share this information with us and for sharing your passion and vision to help mend our food system by making organically grown produce available right in our own neighborhoods.  I’m hoping to visit one of your gardens soon and bring back some photos to share here in a future post.

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4 Responses to The Urban Farm Collective, an interview with Kim Schenk

  1. Tammy says:

    Very cool interview. I love the idea of a property tax exemption if you’re using your land this way. Off to check out the link.

  2. Jeri Corbett says:

    Great interview Lorraine! I think I’ll go look into biodynamic gardening now, and spreading the word about Urban Farm Collective to all my friends who say they can’t garden because they don’t have enough space, or just don’t want to do it alone. Thank you for the article!!

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