A Visit to Zenger Farm: Reflections from Our Summer Intern

Nathaniel Berger, Duke Intern

One of our Summer Interns, Nathaniel Berger, recently paid a visit to Zenger Farm, in Southeast Portland, where he participated in a volunteer project and learned about urban agriculture. Nathaniel hails from Atlanta, Georgia and is a rising Junior at Duke University. He came to us through the DukeEngage Summer Fellowship, which places students in civic engagement-oriented organizations around the world. Learn more about their experiences here.

When I first arrived at Zenger Farm, I was amazed by the contrasts that were immediately evident. I saw the bright red raspberry bushes and the herb garden in front of the barn where the cattle were once housed. I saw the gorgeous ten acres of wetlands. However, this oasis was surrounded by industrial buildings and residential neighborhoods.

Image of Zenger Farm in Southeast PortlandNever having been to Portland before or even Oregon before this summer, the idea of an urban farm was a foreign one for me. I always thought of farms as being in rural areas, and urban areas have buildings. However, last Friday afternoon, I volunteered at Zenger Farm, an urban farm in Southeast Portland. Zenger Farm is a non-profit farm that incorporated in 1999 and is dedicated to environmental education, sustainability, and local economic development. I was visiting the farm to volunteer with my cohort of DukeEngage classmates. While our volunteer work mostly consisted of weeding around the herbs and garlic plants, I saw so much more at Zenger Farm than I expected was possible. It is a productive and beneficial part of the Portland community, providing fresh vegetables to its neighbors. It emphasizes community involvement through its CSA program and local families helping care for the chickens. It is a place where children learn about sustainability and healthy eating, and can appreciate where their food comes from. Further, their raspberries are rather tasty.

I have interned at 1000 Friends of Oregon for almost three weeks now, and Zenger Farm is just another example of things I had never heard of, before I came to Portland. In the past three weeks, I have learned so much about the benefits that land use planning brings to Oregon. A month ago, the term “UGB” would not have meant anything to me. Now, I have read about urban growth boundaries extensively and biked along the Portland region’s UGB, and saw the vast differences between the two sides.  Oregon’s urban growth boundaries protect wetlands, family farms, old growth trees, and the immense green landscape that Oregon possesses.  Urban growth boundaries enable farmers to travel fewer miles to farmers’ markets and urban residents to have fresh, locally grown produce.

Until I went to Zenger Farm, I never would have thought about combining the words “urban” and “farm,” but now I wonder why there are not more places like Zenger Farm and cities like Portland throughout the United States. It has motivated me to learn more about the role of urban farms in our cities, and what strategies might work to encourage practices like these back in North Carolina.