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Get the dish on news, events and announcements related to sustainable food.

A Tale of Two Cities, or A Tomato By Any Other Name Would Look Bad

Urban Food Zoning Concept Report Released

Raised bedIt was the best of thyme, it was the worst of thyme. Oak Park, Michigan threatens to send rogue gardener Julia Bass to the cooler for planting vegetables in her front yard. Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon releases a Concept Report for updating zoning codes to promote growing and selling food in the city.

Bass, the vegetable villain, got blasted by a city planner who opined that “a tomato vine on a tomato cage is just not attractive,” and noted that “In planning and zoning, we try and put things in appropriate places. Inappropriate vegetables could have put Bass in jail for 93 days before a judge dismissed the charge.

Back on the home front, Portland's Urban Food Zoning Concept Report addresses growing and distributing food in the city and ways to increase access to healthful, local foods. It’s a compilation of what project planners heard from the community over the past nine months and offers direction for the zoning code revision.

It's not to late to chime in. Fill out the online questionnaire or attend one of three public meetings. Keep Portland safe for vegetables!

Let It Rain

Cloudy, with a CSA of vegetables.

Oregon Vegetables say “Bring It On”

Ever notice who uses umbrellas on a rainy winter (or in this year’s case, summer) day? That’s right, tourists. We’re Oregonians, we can handle the rain. Apparently, our local crops are just as resilient. La Niña takes her best shot with the second wettest spring in 117 years and barbecues may be belated, but vegetables are coming on strong. Francesca Benedetti of Sauvie Island Organics tells us that “while the weather affected spring planting, the weather since has not affected crop growth.” 
It’s premature to predict the punctuality of later produce, like peppers and pumpkins, but this week’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares are likely to have the same crops you would have received this time last year, or the year before. Proving once again that local vegetables are right as rain. 

If you doubted summer's arrival and didn't sign up for a CSA, don’t worry: it’s not too late. Dancing Roots Farm still has shares and will prorate the cost for the rest of the season. Slow Hand Farm, Mercy Corps Northwest refugee farm program, and other farms offer fall CSA options.  

And remember, let a smile be your umbrella because July showers bring August, uh....vegetables. 

Site, Soil

How to select the best site and improve soil for food gardening

Your Site

First thing first, you need some space to grow. Community gardens can be a great way to become more connected with your neighborhood and learn from gardeners of all walks of life. Land in urban areas can be hard to come by-currently Portland Parks and Recreation has a waiting list for community garden plots of around 1000 people-but, you don't need much land to grow a significant amount of food and there is always container gardening.

It's estimated that twenty square feet could feed a family of four and a twelve square foot plot of vegetable could feed one to two people. If you don't have time to grow yourself but have the space, there are several Portland-based businesses that will cultivate your yard for you.

Here are some ideas of where to scope out growing space:

Portland Parks and Recreation

Portland Yardsharing Project

Growing Gardens

Toolkits for starting a community garden in your neighborhood:

Portland Parks and Recreation's Community Garden Toolkit

American Community Garden Association: Guide to Starting Your Own Community Garden

Your Soil

"A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself." – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Soil holds the roots of life. Healthy soil is the key ingredient to a successful garden. Good soil supplies the minerals, microbes, water retention and drainage that your plants need to thrive. So, let's start from the ground up. Get ready to dig in, dirty your hands and expand your soil horizons.

Soil Testing

Since we are in an urban setting, it is important to test your soil before planting edibles. If your home was built before 1978, there is a high chance your soil contains lead from paint particles (the federal government banned the use of lead paint after 1978). Land next to busy roads and industrial areas should have soil tested as well. Soil tests indicate soil fertility and can help you figure out what you need to improve your soil's nutritional content.

Read more about urban soil and soil contaminants here:

Urban Gardens and Soil Contaminants

Start a Farm in the City

Know Your Soil: A Handbook for Organic Growers and Gardeners in Temperate and Sub-Tropical Regions

Soil Testing Labs

You can do a home soil test, however, these are not as accurate and comprehensive as sending samples to a lab.

Here are some suggestions of where to get your soil tested:

A&L Western Laboratories

10220 SW Nimbus Ave. Bldg. K-9, Portland, OR 97223

(503) 968-9225

Standard Package plus recommendations: $13

Kinsey Agricultural Services, Inc.

297 County Highway 357, Charleston, MO 63834

(573) 683-3880

Standard Sampling package: $50

Mukang Labs

2526 East Saint Helens St., Pasco, WA 99301


Organic Farming Package: $45.00

University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab

682 North Pleasant St., Amherst, MA 01003

(413) 545-2311

Standard Soil Test Package: $9

Wy'East Environmental Services

2415 SE 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97214

(503) 231-9320

Lead Test: $20

Result Interpretation

Soil tests results may be difficult to understand. Visit your local garden store or nursery to speak with an expert who will help you figure out what your soil test means.

Here are some resources on how to read your soil analysis:

Oregon Extension Soil Test Interpretation Guide

E-How: How to Read a Soil Test Evaluation (brief and simple explanation)

Soil Amendments

Once you have an understanding of your soil makeup, supplement your soil with the nutrients your plants need.

Here are some easy approaches you can take to enrich your soil:

Compost! - Use your left over food and yard scraps to complete the nutrient cycle and grow more food.

Buy amendments - There are people all over town who specialize in strengthening soil composition. From fish emulsion to rabbit poop to organic fertilizer blends, there are many environmentally friendly options to choose from. Find a garden store or nursery near you, bring in your soil test, pick employees' brains, and experiment to find out which inputs work for you and your soil.

Cover crop

Especially over the winter or while not growing on a piece of land, use this time to cover crop with plants that will fix nutrients into your soil.

ATTRA's Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manure

Container Gardening

World of Container Gardening: web portal by the University of Illinois Extension

Oregon State University Extension Container Gardening

AgriLife Extension's Vegetable Gardening in Containers

Plant Your Garden

Resources for planting a home food garden

"Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds." – Thomas Jefferson

Planting a garden can be easy as peas. According to the National Gardening Association, 35 percent of American households had some kind of kitchen garden in 2009. Add to that number and help reclaim our food system by growing some vegetables in your backyard or in a container. Figure out the what, where, when and hows of your garden with the following resources:


Scrolling through seed catalogues can be an enjoyable experience on its own: the plush colors of a royal burgundy bush bean, the eccentric patterns on a tigerella tomato, the bulbous shape of a lemon cucumber; who knew our staple vegetables could come in so many different shapes, sizes and colors?

Part of the fun of planting a garden is planning what to grow. During a rainy Portland winter day, curl up with a seed catalogue and let your imagination run wild.

Some recommended organic seed suppliers:

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Johnny's Selected Seeds

Portland Seed Library

Seeds of Change

Seed Savers Exchange

SE Portland Seed Bank

Territorial Seed Company

Uprising Seeds

Oregon organic seed suppliers

Save your seeds

Cornell Cooperative Extension: How to Save a Vegetable Seed

Organize or participate in a seed swap!

Tool Libraries

Tools can be expensive. Don't let that stop you; it's not necessary to have your own.

Visit a tool library near you:

North Portland Tool Library

SE Portland Tool Library

Seasonal and Regional Crop Information

Timing is everything. Your ground is ready and beds are made, but before starting your seeds, it's important to know what's best to plant and when in the Pacific Northwest.

These resources will help you plan for a fresh supply of produce in your garden year round:

Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardening Guide in the Pacific Northwest (by OSU extension)

National Garden Association Vegetable Planting Guide

OSU Extension Monthly Garden Calendar

Portland Nursery Veggie Calendar

Keep Your Plants Healthy: Pest, Weed and Disease Management

Part of gardening is not being in control. Whether you're growing inside or outside, your plants are fair game for sliming slugs, foul fungi and intrepid invasives. Not all unintended garden guests are bad - some insects and plants can complement the health of your crops. If you do see a budding problem in your bed, for the health of your soil, the critters living in it and you, the consumer of homegrown vegetables, it is important to use environmentally sound methods pest, weed and disease management.

Here are some resources for natural or organically approved weed/pest/disease management:

ATTRA's pest management data-base

ATTRAs resources on methods of weed and pest management

Grow Smart, Grow Safe: Metro's Consumer Guide to Lawn and Garden Products

IMPedia: resource database on integrated pest management

OSU Don't Let Bugs Beat You to It:

Pacific Northwest Insect Management Handbook

Multnomah County Master Gardeners

Ask a Multnomah Master Gardener:

Hotline: 503-445-4608

Resource webpage


Resources for composting your food and garden waste

compost barrel

Composting at home

Metro provides extensive online educational tools for composting at home, as well as a downloadable "Make your own compost" booklet and a composting demonstration site showing a variety of different composting set-up options.

The OSU Extension Service website offers an informative page on how to compost at home.

Many of the organizations that offer gardening instruction also offer educational resources for composting. See the "I want to…grow my own food" section for resource links.

Commercial composting

With the Portland Composts! program, businesses in the City of Portland can now contract with waste haulers to collect food waste and food-soiled paper for composting.