PORTLAND — Zenger Farm, which operates at the edge of one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, opened the doors June 22 on a facility intended to train the next generation of farmers, consumers and food entrepreneurs
The Urban Grange, built with $2.3 million in donations, has 6,600 square feet of classroom, office and meeting space. A commercial kitchen is available for start-up food businesses and community events.
The Grange — the name was used with permission from the national Grange — is part community center, part conduit to proper nutrition and a vibrant local food system.
Through camps for children, school visits, adult classes and presentations, families learn where food comes from, how to grow it and how to prepare it, Executive Director Mike Wenricksaid.
Rural residents who grow up in agricultural settings already understand farming, Wenrick said. But he asked a group of children recently where eggs come from and one boy answered, “A carton.”
“It might be a novelty to see the reaction children have to pulling a carrot out of the ground,” Wenrick said.
“In an urban environment, a lot of the (food system) education rural children get is not happening,” said Laleña Dolby, Zenger’s communications director.
Zenger’s programs help them value the farming lifestyle and farmers as well, Dolby said. That can pay off when they’re adults and decide issues that affect agriculture.
“That urban piece is what makes us unique,” she said.
About 10,000 people visit the farm annually, and Wenrick expects that to double now that the Grange is up and operating.
Zenger Farm has emerged over the years as a bridge between urban and rural. The 16-acre property is owned by the city of Portland and operated by the non-profit Friends of Zenger Farm.
The farm founded and supports the Lents International Farmers Market, which serves low-income neighborhoods in outer Southeast Portland. Crops grown on the property go to the market, to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, and to restaurants.
The farm trains a handful of interns each year, people who want to be farmers but don’t know how to go about it. Children attending camps get to pet chickens, plant, care, harvest and prepare vegetables and enjoy fruit trees and berry bushes.
The farm has a relationship with the David Douglas School District, and fifth graders visit several times a year as part of their science curriculum. A wetlands on the property provides additional learning experiences.
Donations for the Urban Grange construction came from some of the Portland area’s best known organizations.
Portland Development Commission gave $300,000. Providing $100,000 to $299,000 were Bob’s Red Mill, M.J. Murdock Memorial Trust, Meyer Memorial Trust, New Seasons Market, the city of Portland, the Collins Foundation, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and an anonymous donor.