Urban Farming in Portland: Growing Gardens, Sowing Circle, and Zenger Farm

The postman opens the gate without fear of the two dwarf goats. After he delivers mail at Seth and Kenya’s house, he stops to pet them. They’re not going to bite him. Goats don’t have any top front teeth; they use their lips to get leafy things into their mouths, and their tongue to get it around the molars. They can’t really chew on anything unless they get their back teeth on it. But, they don’t mow lawns; these cloven creatures transform your yard. There’s no grass. This is a paradigm shift from what people are used to in a lawn. Seth and Kenya are urban farmers who share a yard with their next-door neighbor, and together they have two goats, four ducks, and a seasonal variety of edible landscaping.

Animal Husbandry in the City: Raising Goats

“We’re teaming up with Growing Gardens to teach a goat raising workshop,” Kenya says. Growing Gardens provides resources for low-income people to grow organic food, eat healthy, and enjoy increased food security. They partner with community organizations and welcome volunteers and workshop participants to learn more about organic gardening, composting, cooking and food preservation.

“We keep female goats,” Kenya says. “Both goats are pregnant. Once they have the kids, we can start milking them, twice a day.”

To manage the work, Seth and Kenya created a co-op of community members who want to milk the goats. Each person in the goat co-op gets a shift, and they get to take home whatever they milk. Actual milking takes about 15 minutes. The goat goes into a milking station and puts its head through a collar to eat grains.

“The milking relieves stress on their udders,” Seth explains. “They actually jump up and look forward to that.” With set up, clean up, and filtering: milking takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

“The goats don’t really need much right now,” Kenya says. They eat alfalfa hay, a grain mixture, and all they can forage. “We put alfalfa up on that thing,” Seth says, pointing to a round wireframe globe. A goat stands up on the compost bin and cranes its neck to reach the alfalfa spilling out of the globe.

“We feed them twice a day and socialize with them,” Kenya says. “We like to make sure they’re happy. It doesn’t take too much time or energy, but we both make an effort to go in there and pet them and interact with them.”

The two pregnant dwarf goats have their horns debudded. People are primarily afraid the horns will hurt neighborhood children, not goat kids, those are due in June.

“Yesterday, we took the goats out to the gorge to go hiking,” Kenya says. “They get so happy. We put them in the back of the Volvo.”

“They’re small goats,” Seth says.

According to city code, each household in Portland can keep three livestock animals. “You can also get a permit to have more,” Seth says. “It’s not that hard to get a permit from what I understand.”

Chickens, ducks, and goats all count as farm animals. “Between this household and that one we have six,” Seth says, indicating the next door neighbor. And, turkeys. Seth would like to add a turkey to the menagerie.

Ducks 101


The four ducks spend all day plowing through the mulch with their bills. They like to eat slugs and stuff: any kind of worms, caterpillars, or beetles. At night, the ducks are herded into a coop to keep them safe from raccoons. If you already raise chickens and are considering ducks, you can try the eggs. You can buy them at New Seasons or try your local food co-op. Duck eggs are bigger than chicken eggs. They have creamier yolks that are good for baking.

Kenya says keeping ducks feels easier than keeping chickens, and they’re easier on plants. Rather than scraping the ground with their feet, ducks root around with their bills. Their bug searching technique is less aggressive. When ducks go through a garden, they don’t eat starts and scratch up plants. Ducks root around and just eat the bugs. When the plants are starts though, the ducks are best kept out of the garden so they don’t uproot them.

“They’re on slug patrol,” Seth says. “They’re actually beneficial to have them around your yard, but they do require the water – that could be a set-back for some people.”

“People will tell you ducks don’t need water, but once you see them in water, you know they do,” Kenya says. “They require a clean place to swim and drink, and that’s how they clean themselves. They root around in the dirt all day, so they need to clean the mud off somehow.”

The ducks waddle up a ramp and into the plastic pond filled with rainwater. “We dump it out and fill it with clean water periodically,” Kenya explains. A small pond-liner normally used for landscaping is now a duck pond, and the water feeds in from an irrigation hose attached to a rain barrel. All the rain from the roof goes down a gutter and into the barrel. Water harvesting is useful on an urban farm. “The ducks make it dirty really quickly.”

Ducklings are occasionally available at SE Portland’s Urban Farm Store.

Because so many people stop to ask about the animals, Seth and Kenya decided to create Sowing Circle Farm as a way to teach workshops. “Imagine if every neighborhood had a resource to learn about animal husbandry or farming in your yard,” Seth says. “This is how we want to live, and we want to inspire other people, too.”

Edible Landscaping

Sowing Circle Farm is in the process of leasing a giant lot next to a house at 206 NE Sacramento. This empty lot with established fruit trees will become a demonstration garden where they will teach workshops and provide a space for other organizations like Growing Gardens to offer classes. “You can grow a ton of food in a small space,” Seth says. “You can actually landscape with edible food.”

A great resource for urban farmers is One Green World. This nursery located in Molalla offers a free catalog that contains all the fruiting trees and shrubs you can grow in the Northwest. They deliver your order to Portland in a PlantMobile along with a selection of unusual plants for sale. To give you some idea of the variety available to urban farmers, Seth and Kenya have put in cherry, pear, blueberry, raspberry, loquat, fig, kiwi, olive, nectarine, grape, peach, and a tea bush. And of course, salad veggies grow year round. Then there’s harvesting and preserving.

Check out the gardening workshops at Growing Gardens!

Zenger Farm

To get your hands dirty and learn about farming, just head out to 11741 SE Foster Road and pull into the parking lot at Zenger Farm. Every Friday is a work party from two to five. Anybody can come and get involved. You don’t have to RSVP; and there are Saturday work parties once a month for people who can’t come on Friday. You just show up, and a friendly farmer will guide you to activities: tending plants, harvesting, and moving the chicken tractor. And, weeding. A lot of weeding, that’s typically what happens on an organic farm. No herbicides. No pesticides. Even the fertilizer . . . chicken manure is the primary source of fertilizer. The chicken tractor is a big coop surrounded by a movable fence, and volunteers help move it to new areas around the farm.

Friends of Zenger Farm is a nonprofit organization founded in 1999 to steward a 16-acre-plot owned by the City of Portland. Their educational programs serve over 3,500 kids every year. School groups come from all over the city to learn about environmental stewardship, organic agriculture, and the importance of healthy eating.

Food Education

Zenger Farm recently started offering adult education: intro to gardening, chicken keeping, butchering, bee keeping, worm composting, and cooking. Adult classes happen largely in spring and fall and only intermittently during the summer. The summer months are given over to kids’ camps.

Registration opens every February, and the summer camps fill up quickly. December through February the weather conditions are not so good for kids to visit farm. And so, to keep classes going through the winter, Zenger Farm began offering in-school programs, like Farmer in the Classroom.

For continuing education, here are some local urban farms: Forty Seventh Avenue Farm, Sauvie Island Organics

Lents International Farmers Market

Zenger Farm has a booth at Lents International Farmers Market on the corner of SE 92nd and Foster. The surrounding neighborhoods are home to many immigrants from Eastern Europe, SE Asia, and Latin America.

“Zenger Farm wants to think of ways to to bring these diverse cultures together; they’re very segmented, and so an internationally-themed Farmer’s Market was our approach,” executive director Jill Kuehler explains. Zenger Farm is making an effort to address food security and the economic needs of immigrant farmers.

Part of the intent is to provide a place where distinct cultures can find familiar foods. “A family from Russia can meet a vendor from Russia and buy produce they haven’t seen since they left their home country. That is happening,” Kuehler says. “It’s not at the scale we’d like to see. There are a lot of Latino shoppers. There are a lot of shoppers from SE Asia. The Eastern European crowd has been a little bit harder to reach.”

At Zenger Farm, there are four plots farmed by families from Laos. They speak hardly any English – enough to exchange greetings and trade food – and every so often a translator will facilitate communication. Half the vendors at the Lents International Farmers Market speak English as their second language.

Wetlands

The City of Portland purchases property around the Johnson Creek Watershed for flood plain and habitat preservation. The area out Foster Road floods every year, and the wetlands act as a sponge. As a nonprofit organization, Friends of Zenger Farm manages the property in exchange for a free fifty-year lease – more than half of the property is given over to ecosystem services.

Zenger Farm contains a ten-acre wetland settled below a gently sloping hillside. Storm water comes off the street and flows into bioswales at Zenger Farm and seeps down to the wetlands. There’s a natural spring in the pond area, and a stream that connects with Johnson Creek. Eventually the water makes its way to the Columbia River, and the Ocean.

The Springwater Corridor Trail runs along the north edge of the farm. Cyclists who want to trek out to Zenger can start at the Willamette and weave their way through Sellwood, following the signs to the trail. When you arrive at the farm during office hours, there will be a farmer to greet you. All other hours of the day are staffed in the pond by northwestern salamander, long-toed salamander, rough-skinned newt, red-legged frog and pacific chorus frog. Chirup! Chirup!

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