Urban Farmer Letty Chichitonyolotli Martinez wants to change the face of farming and herbalism in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest by bringing farming back to its roots. As a queer, Indigenous veteran, Chichitonyolotli Martinez’s farm, Flying Dogheart Farm, gives people an opportunity to buy from Black and Indigenous farmers. They said that’s especially important to them living in Oregon, a state that had Black exclusion laws on the books for much of its history.
“Oregon is an apartheid state established as a white haven, so African and indigenous land ownership was not possible,” Chichitonyolotli Martinez said in a recent interview with the Mercury. “Urban farming is really the biggest way we can make an impact and show people farming has always been our way. Whether we live in cities, it’s something we have not just a right to, but obligation to participate in.”
Flying Dogheart Farm was founded in 2018 and is located on Wapato Island, otherwise known as Sauvie Island. Chichitonyolotli Martinez works with two other farms, Scrapberry and Chalchi, in the Raceme Farm Collective, which believes in food and community as medicine. Chichitonyolotli Martinez is just one of Portland’s many urban farmers who support the movement of localizing food production, diversifying the farming industry, restoring land, educating consumers on growing food, and uplifting each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Particularly in Portland’s dense metro area, Wild Grown Farm co-owner Shannon Kane said that urban farming is a necessity. Kane runs the farm with her husband and co-owner, Taylor, in Southeast Portland. They founded the farm in 2015 and sell a variety of plant and flower starts out of their backyard greenhouse.
“We have to have urban farms and more people doing what we’re doing, not necessarily as a business component, but growing their own food,” she said. “Literally putting organic matter in so we can capture some carbon.”
She said the farm connects hyper-locally with other urban farms, and there isn’t a sense of competition.
“We’re all in the same market but we’re not competing in the same way other businesses might,” she said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie.”
Taylor Kane added that Portland has a wide array of farmers from different ages and experience levels, and, “everyone’s able to help each other out.”
This was especially true during the pandemic. Customers flocked to urban farms during the pandemic due to concerns about food security in grocery stores and a desire to reinvest in local farms. The Kanes would recommend other farms that still had Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) available when theirs filled up. Shannon Kane said their operation “began to click” in 2020 and this year they have doubled their sales.
“We’re basically serving gardeners, and the demand is huge,” Shannon Kane said.
As a newer farmer, Chichitonyolotli Martinez said they found it encouraging how happy farmers were to share lessons and advice to help them avoid wasting valuable farming time. They added that it’s a departure from how they initially experienced Portlanders after moving from Chicago nine years ago.
“Coming to the Pacific Northwest I found Portlanders more distant and stand-offish,” they said. “Going into farming and working with plants, there’s a shift of, ‘Let me show you.’”
The community also rallied behind Black Futures Farm, which is co-directed by husband and wife Malcolm Hoover and Mirabai Collins, on the grounds of the Portland State University Learning Gardens Lab in Southeast Portland. Black Futures Farm started in 2020 and is made up of a group of Black, Diasporic, and continental African people. Their aim is to use the best methods of growing food by taking from ancestral practices and new innovation.
Hoover said Portland’s urban farmers are “a cool community to be a part of,” and he found this to be one of the most anti-racist spaces he’s encountered in his work—including in anti-racism work.
“It’s really DIY and like many other Portland things it’s really supportive,” he said. “It’s great to be a part of this group of people that are about what we’re about.”
Last year, 100 percent of Black Futures Farm’s starts were donated from other farms and community members.
While business was more than they had expected, Collins and Hoover noted that their labor pool had shrunk due to COVID-19 restrictions, which impacted their goal of community building.
“Our farm’s a community farm, not really a commercial venture,” Hoover said. “Our purpose is to heal the connection of Black people back to the land, and if we’re not able to have people out here on a regular basis, it’s harder to do.”
But this year, Collins said they are focusing on implementing clean energy at the farm from a planning grant they received from the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund, as well as do more mentoring with the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, which serves as a collaboration hub for Black and Brown communities to confront systemic barriers in food accessibility.
Although Chichitonyolotli Martinez also struggled with labor during the pandemic, they did receive monetary support through donations from the community who wanted to give back to Black and Indigenous groups and businesses after George Floyd’s murder, which helped them put in more infrastructure. Despite the burdens that came with the pandemic, they look to the future optimistically.
“COVID in a lot of ways was hard financially, but I think the fruits of that trial we will be seeing for years to come of how it has shifted the way we think and interact with one another,” they said. “Hope springs eternal in me. I really hope that out of this comes a shift in culture and mindset.”