What happens when you turn three quarters of an acre into an urban farm right next to an elementary school? You get Schoolyard Farms, the six-month-old start-up—located near Oregon City's Candy Lane Elementary—with a mission to educate kids on urban farming and the local food system! Schoolyard took over from Singer Hill Farms, a local CSA that used the plot to fuel their weekly output of produce, but without any real connection to the nearby school. Courtney Leeds and Justin Davidson, Schoolyard founders, both worked at SE Portland's educational Zenger Farm, and saw this abandoned site as a perfect spot to kickstart their project. Now, as they head into the summer months, the pair are jumping headfirst into fundraising and brainstorming for the future of their small educational farm.
I caught up with Leeds for a quick Q & A about Schoolyard Farms a little while back.
MERCURY: What encouraged you and Justin to take the reins of Schoolyard Farms in the first place?
LEEDS: It was more born out of our love and work for urban farms across Portland. And already having the Singer Hill Farms plot on school grounds made it easy to coalesce well with the school.
The program's pretty new. How's it been going so far?
It's been overwhelming! But really good. We have a great support network with the school and the surrounding community. And getting to work with these kids is very exciting. There aren't really other models out there that we're going off of, so we're really learning by doing.
I know this is a bit of an old question, but why is encouraging students to cultivate their own food is important?
Our current food system in the country is not quite working the way it should be. Education is one way of shifting people's views on the system, especially when you start at a young age. At Schoolyard, kids can actually see the process and understand how much work goes into bringing food to the table. Also, neighbors can see what we're doing here and hopefully be inspired to start a garden of their own.
So where does the food you grow at Schoolyard go? To the students?
Well we give five CSA shares out a week to low income families whose children go to Candy Lane, and of course the kids snack as the work. We're hoping that in the future we can actually serve what we grow in the school cafeteria!
And what's being harvested right now?
A lot of lettuce and garlic!
Tomorrow, June 12, Holocene is hosting Schoolyard Farms' first big fundraiser. Swing by to learn more about the inspired project and catch some local bands!