On a tidy plot next to the Oregon Food Bank’s headquarters, Shantae Johnson and Arthur Shavers grow food crops. But as they go about the routine work of weeding, tilling, planting and harvesting, they’re breaking down racial barriers, creating a place where skills are shared and empty pantries are filled with fresh vegetables.
Grand Central’s Portland culinary leads spent a sparkling September morning at this 1-acre community farm run by Johnson and Shavers’ Mudbone Grown LLC. We picked tomatoes next to a curtain of sunflowers and dug weeds. We harvested chard, cleared beds for fall planting and plucked weeds from the dirt, setting aside bunches of wild purslane to offer as a salad green.
Mudbone Grown/Unity Farm currently feeds 20 families experiencing food insecurity with weekly CSA shares of fresh produce. The farmers also welcome community members to work in exchange for fresh picked chard, fat bouquets of basil, or whatever is growing at the moment.
But kinship, cultural pride and self-sufficiency lie the heart of this black-run farm. Johnson, also a community health worker, wants to close the hunger gap by equipping and empowering people of color to learn to grow food and share those skills throughout the city. People of color make up 28 percent of Portland’s population. That diversity is not reflected in the city’s small farm agricultural movement. Mudbone Grown is a hopeful sign.
A beginning farmer training program specifically for people of color starts in January 2018; applications for the 10-month paid program will be accepted through Nov. 30th. Johnson says she hopes these new farmers will work with community groups to improve food access for underserved urban neighborhoods.
As a food business committed to buying ingredients from local and sustainable farms, it’s a joy to spend time in the fields with local farmers who share our values. Special thanks to Shantae and Art for hosting us and especially for connecting local food issues with social justice and digging in to make our community a better place.