Food Works began in 2001 as St. Johns Woods, an adventurous garden project that was a collaboration between the residents of St. Johns Woods housing project in north Portland and Janus Youth Programs.
Portland Nursery first got involved with donations of seeds and vegetable starts in 2003 when the St. Johns Woods community was already operating three 2500 sq. ft. gardens. These gardens were tended by and served all ages at St. Johns Woods; they had a galvanizing effect on the community and resulted in a reduction in crime. But it was the adolescents of St. Johns Woods who were at the hub of the garden project and who would carry it forward to the next level.
The youth were mentored in gardening skills by older residentsand Janus Youth Program staff; in turn they took fresh produce to elders who were housebound at St. Johns Woods and mentored the younger gardeners in the kids' "Big Apple Club" garden. But these teenagers of St. Johns Woods decided to go beyond their own garden gate. Their decision to try to grow enough additional produce to sell at the Portland Farmers Market was the beginning of Food Works.
Food Works has blossomed in the years since its inception. Last year they were granted use of an acre of city-owned land on Sauvie Island, adjacent to Sauvie Island Organics (who provided use of their equipment and farming experience). They received a USDA grant which allowed the Food Works youth to be paid a stipend for their work and to be able to afford materials that weren't donated.
Portland Nursery is proud to be one of three business partners in this grant, making a commitment to these enterprising youth to provide annual in-kind donations of materials as well as several hours of job-skill related training. The information they gain will help them in their current endeavor at the farmers market, but also relates in a more general way to skills that will aid them in their futures, whether or not they decide to pursue work related to agriculture or horticulture.
Having presented workshops to the Food Works' team, I am truly impressed and inspired by the dedication and enthusiasm of the youth. This is a sizeable project they have undertaken; they are learning valuable life lessons in setting goals, planning and executing a project, as well as specifics about growing, displaying and selling organic produce. They are learning what makes good customer service, how to work as a team, how to interview for a job.
If you didn't get to the farmers market in time this year to enjoy the results of Food Works' efforts, I'm sure they'll be back again next year. We are proud of their efforts as well as their success.
Corina Reynolds Stearns, Portland Nursery Community Outreach Director
For information on how we can help, please send an email to Corina Reynolds Stearns