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The Expo was free and open to the public.

Over a month ago, I wrote about the upcoming 2015 Northwest Permaculture Convergence. Better late than never, here is a report on the Convergence and some other topics of interest. The Convergence took place August 28 to 30, 2015, in Eugene, Oregon.

What is a Permaculture Convergence?

First, a permaculture convergence, or conference, is a coming together of people interested in permaculture. Typically, there are presentations, plenary sessions, networking, perhaps hands on skill building. There might be tours of the site or nearby places of interest that show what applied permaculture looks like.

Most convergences take place at a community college or in rural areas like a private property or retreat center. The 2015 Northwest Convergence took place in a neighborhood recreation center in the midst of suburbia. Having a friendly and familiar neighborhood recreation center was a big asset to organizing the event. The theme was “Greening Our Neighborhoods With Permaculture.”

Not only was the Convergence in a suburban neighborhood, but a large part of the convergence was free and open to the public. We chose a town location specifically to introduce many of the creative permaculture ideas and actions for living more friendly to people and planet to a new suburban audience.

Permaculture Tours and Open Houses

We started off with five free site tours. One was an all-day show-and-tell of suburban permaculture sites in the neighborhood where the rec center is located. Other tours included Block Planning – a land use redevelopment tool — along with green business, habitat restoration, shared housing, citizen initiative on public property and more.

Each tour showed an important aspect or action of a more eco friendly economy and culture.  The intent was calling attention to “previews” of a preferred future — actions people are already taking that point the way to a more resilient and peaceful home, community and world.

There were also open house tours in the countryside near Eugene at Lost Valley, Fern Hill and Aprovecho education centers. Altogether, the tours drew over 200 people. Many people had never seen homes, businesses, appropriate technology and social collaborations like these before.

Another part of outreach was an outdoor Expo in the park where the Rec Center is located. The Expo included educational groups, a variety of vendors, business sponsors, a Kid Zone and 15 practical skill sharing presentations for greening the home and neighborhood. The Expo was also free and open to the public. The Expo and site tours could have been complete events on their own.

This skill share presentation was about food forests and drew a crowd.

Indoors, there were presentations, plenary sessions, meals and the Green Neighborhood Summit.  The Summit was perhaps the first gathering of its kind to focus on a variety of impressive “place making” projects in the Northwest where city programs, neighborhood associations, permaculture and public property come together.  There were inspiring stories from Seattle, Olympia, Portland and Eugene where citizens have taken initiative with surprising partnerships, for creating more cohesive and resilient neighborhoods and communities.

You Don’t Have to Move to Live in a Better Neighborhood

The 2015 Northwest Permaculture Convergence was a great success. Many people in the neighborhood took on important roles. Building neighborhood cohesion was an important benefit.

Plenary sessions and dining took place in this large meeting room.

The Convergence contained four distinct parts, described above, that could be stand-alone events or could take place in any combination. A favorite phrase, “you don't have to move to live in a better neighborhood” applies. Creating greener and more resilient neighborhoods is a smart idea everywhere. Those who take initiative on behalf of community and planet will likely discover more assets and allies to work with where they live, and benefits from these projects, than they might have imagined.

A new website came into being after the Convergence: Green and Resilient Neighborhoods. The website features links, stories and photos about actions people are taking at the neighborhood scale to build greater cohesion and resilience.

New stories are welcome. You will find instructions on the website about how to submit a story. There is also a forum for asking questions and sharing information about creating green and resilient homes, neighborhoods and communities. The website has more information about each part of the Convergence and other great stories about how people are making their neighborhoods better places to live.

Homestead Hamlets Promote the Good Life

Speaking of greener and more resilient neighborhoods. Congratulations K.C. Compton, MOTHER EARTH NEWS Senior Editor for the article Community + Self Reliance = The Good Life in the October/November, 2015 issue. The article describes seven different urban/suburban “hamlets.”  These hamlets all great examples of people working together for taking care of more needs in ways that reduce their eco-footprints while building cohesion and resilience. Most of the stories are about people repurposing existing infrastructure ranging in scale from a single home to dozens of homes.

A new term K.C. uses is DIO:  Do It Ourselves. If the human presence is to evolve to a place where it actually lives within its economic and environmental means, that process will require a lot of social and economic cooperation, as described in K.C.'s article.  (Please nag MOTHER EARTH NEWS to have more articles and a blog category about social and economic cooperation.)

My next blog will be about “place making.” Place making, in the sense used here, is the multi-layered act of retrofitting public or private places in ways that deepen the relationship between people and where they live. A place-making project adds to the social and economic well being of the community. A place-making project says, “there are people here who care about this street, park or neighborhood.”

Stay tuned.

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home, including food, energy, water, and culture. Read a draft preface for his forthcoming book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier at He is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Find his contact info, CV and more topics he can address on his website, and click here to read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Leaves are falling. Time for planting low, small, leafy foods. It is also the time for clearing vines, melons, squash and sorghum. The yam harvest and pumpkin gathering will happen soon here in Atlanta. All the summer plant growth is a crucial organic ingredient and fuel for the compost alchemy. We are offered this season for refinement as well. Integrate the sweet, steamy lusciousness of summer inspiration for a deepening of purpose. The soil is cooling. All the moisture held in the mulch will be distributed to the plants and microbes.

Over the next few lunar cycles, we will plant fruit trees and berry shrubs. Garlic will be planted between the next full and new moon. We have begun opening compost piles and adding the finished material to planting beds for transplants. Collards, kale, broccoli, turnip, cabbage and mustard are already standing tall. The sunchokes are blossoming and soon they will lay to the ground signaling us to come dig up their delicious tubers. This week, we saw the first healthy wild oyster mushroom fruit from its usual spot on the planting mounds. It is cool enough now.

This is a brief sketch of agroecology in the urban, Southeastern region of the United States. In Pierre Rabhi’s book As in the Heart, So in the Earth: Reversing the Desertification of the Soul and the Soil, we get a lesson in indigenous Earth care and capital-driven mind control. Agroecology is the term that Rabhi created to resonate the balance that his practice of agriculture encourages.

We are all in need of balance. Our planet is reflecting the urgency of that need. The change of seasons is an obvious signal for preparation and cleaning. This is the transition period where the new branch growth of fruit trees, vines and berry patches can be observed to help inform pruning decisions before they drop their leaves. Tasting cold-hardy kiwis and passion fruit after they fall to the ground punctuates why the highest nutrition and precisely perfect flavor must be harvested when ripe. This is nearly impossible in commerce-driven food culture.

This Good Food Movement, as Will Allen talks about, can be refocused around high quality, supreme flavor and vibrant energy signature. This is possible when food is grown in dynamic systems of diversity that are close to home.

Acroecology Can Help to Restore Balance to the Food System

To truly open up a new space in the conversation or the concrete, we must reframe the context. Our current ecological collapse is directly connected to the Western hunger for flesh. This hunger now requires that animals be bred and fed from land thousands of miles from where the animal will be consumed. This long-distance animal farming is the cause for many fruit and nut trees to be cut down and thousands of hectares of medicinal plants to be cleared and burned. Still, smoking a joint is illegal in many United States cities.

Globally, people eat animals in far less amounts than United States and Europe. Often the meat consumed in non-Western countries is locally or home grown, like goats, sheep or lamb. The Western diet addicted to blood has forced the creation of factory animal farms and feed. This bloodlust promotes the clearing of dense forests for growing feed. These practices pollute all life systems with the waste and death products of these slaughtered and mutilated beasts. When we approach the evolution of our local food system through this lense, clearly veganic agroecological practices are the answer.

Agroecology techniques are easily adaptable to urban areas, though they are most often associated with regions affected by drought or soil mismanagement. Globally, urban areas are densely populated with people needing to be fed and enormous quantities of natural resources such as water, soil and air being stressed and polluted. Observation is essential for deciding how to apply agroecology to any unique environment. Proper observation requires personally witnessing the ecology of a site during season changes for 18-30 moon cycles.

The ecology of a place includes the people, insects, tree canopy and soil waterways. It is valuable to see the growing site and the region in mid-day sun, darkness, summer heat and rain. These weather events and seasons are expressions of nature. They communicate and reveal the gifts and deficiencies of a landscape or region. We as humans have demonstrated a capacity for transforming topography as well as shifting weather patterns. We can redirect our power toward cultivating health and rejuvenating the fertility of a property or entire regions where the nature is attempting to re-balance.

The Basics of Agroecology Techniques

Agroecology, food forestry and permaculture all begin by developing small densely planted, oxygen-rich microclimates that, when linked in clusters or chains across an area, drastically increase biological diversity and plant food production. In urban life, that could take the form of neighborhoods, subdivisions and housing complexes organizing to grow clusters of high-oxygen, plant-dense habitats in patterns that protect and balance the whole zone. Inside this housing zone, the air would be cleaner, and there would be more abundant access to fresh food, as well as reduced utility costs for heating and cooling, for the residences closest to the microclimates.

Many of the planting and waste-transformation strategies in these systems are ancient surviving truths, like the life-generating effect that our saliva has when it makes contact with germinating seeds. Other techniques require dynamic, modern technology for creating clean power and free communication. This is all agroecology due to the hub of the community revolving around sensibly designed food production systems that allow for birds, insects, fungi, water, wind and sunlight.

As we continue to share this vision and support the work that is required to manifest it we learn how valuable it is to remain receptive. Seasons change and our health requires diverse nutrients to respond to stresses in our environment. These high-density nutrient compounds are found in a balanced and recognizable state in the healing plants and fruits grown in our region.

We can best receive these plant combinations by creating the safe biospheres for them to exist in. This giving is reciprocal and also a requirement for humans to live on into this next generation.

In partnership with the organization m.a.m.a. earth, Eugene Cooke presents the “Grow Where You Are” workshop series and book. After years of working as an independent contractor supporting urban agriculture organizations, Eugene established Grow Where You Are, LLC, to create a structure for the collaborative efforts of local food heroes to yield tangible results. The main hub for Grow Where You Are is the Good Shepherd Agroecology Center in Southwest Atlanta, Ga., where clean food is grown in a system that preserves the ecology and supports the people. Read all of Eugene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Gardens are wonderful places. We can feed ourselves from them, but they can produce so much more. I have grown cotton in my garden and have learned to spin and weave it. My personal challenge for 2016 is to grow flax to produce linen. I have to plan for that now, however, so that the garden beds are ready for the cotton and flax when it is time.

I manage my cover crops with hand tools, planning ahead so that the cover crop is in a stage for transition when I want the next crop to go in. If I managed the garden with a tiller, I wouldn’t have to be so careful about my cover crop choices now, since I could just till them in at the appropriate time.

Planting Flax

Flax will be planted in early spring. A preceding cover crop that has winterkilled would be appropriate here, such as radish or oats, but it is too late to be planting that now in October. Mulching the bed with leaves would be good. The bed will be weed-free come spring and will be warmed up if you pull off the leaves two weeks ahead of planting to allow the sun to reach the soil.


There is much to learn when turning flax fiber into linen and I’ll be writing about that in the coming year. The days to maturity for flax is 90-100 days from planting, so be prepared for a summer harvest. Then it will need to be rippled (seeds pulled off), retted (soaked in water or laid out in the dew), broken, scutched, hackled, and spun.

For the most part, I’ll be making my own tools for those jobs, however I found a hackle in an antique mall recently. A hackle is a board with very sharp spikes sticking up from it and, from what I’ve read, three sizes are needed; each size having the spikes at different spacings. Hackling prepares the long flax fibers for spinning. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Planting Cotton

Cotton doesn’t need so many tools to go from seed to fabric, however, it does need hot weather. Not all climates are suitable, but if you have a long hot growing season, you should give it a try. Plant it after the last spring frost when you put in tomatoes. It will take the whole growing season, with the bolls not opening until near frost in the fall.

A suitable cover crop before cotton would be winter rye mixed with a legume, such as hairy vetch or Austrian winter peas. The crop would be cut and left in place as mulch when the rye is flowering (about the time the farmers are taking their first cutting of hay). Wait two weeks for the roots to settle before putting in the cotton transplants. For a little earlier planting, but still after the last spring frost, cotton can go in after Austrian winter peas, hairy vetch, or crimson clover, without waiting an additional two weeks after the cover crop is cut.

I have spun cotton right off the seed, but sometimes it needs to be carded first, which could be accomplished with dog brushes. Learn more about cotton and flax in your garden at Homeplace Earth.

Learning to grow and process these fibers has meaning beyond the potential to produce your own textiles. I hope it gets you thinking about how the textiles already in the marketplace are produced. Start to pay attention to stories about the working conditions and environmental damage due to textile production — stories such as the garment factory fire in Bangladesh and the advantages of organic cotton over conventional cotton.

Every dollar we spend is a vote for how we want the world to be. Just by how we choose to live can make a difference, whether we are growing our own textiles or purchasing them from responsible sources.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Sustainable gardening photo

Gardening doesn’t have to be constant hard work or cost a fortune. Yes, there are start up costs, and it is work, but with the right low maintenance techniques, you can put some of the more tedious chores — like watering — on autopilot.  

Garden smarter, not harder—here’s how:

Rain barrels photo

Use Rain Barrels. They’re low maintenance and eco-friendly. You can conserve water, while still watering your garden during dry spells. According to a recent Home Depot Garden Club Survey, 20% of millennials gardening on the West Coast already use rain barrels, saving precious dollars on water bills in a drought-stricken region, and putting water aside for periods with no rain. If your goal is to be eco-friendly and save money, consider a rain barrel.

Choose Easy Plants to Grow. Succulents are easy to maintain, as are hostas and marigolds. For decorative flowers, choose types that won’t require hours of your time picking, pruning and watering. In drought-affected Western states, 42% of gardeners over the age of 35 are growing succulents, according to The Home Depot Garden Club Survey. That’s undoubtedly because they’re easy to grow and come in many different varieties, shapes, patterns and colors. There’s something for everyone when it comes to succulents!

Succulent plant photo

Plant Perennials. There are perennials for every season and every type of climate: drought-tolerant perennials, non-flowering, perennials for sunny areas, shady areas and even perennials that resist disease.  Perennials can live more than two years, and some live much longer. By choosing plants that bloom each year, you’ll save money and time. There’s another advantage—fewer weeds—because perennials’ roots grow deeper than other flowers. Fewer weeds equal less work and a pretty garden…yes, please!

Container Gardening. If you’re short on time and space, consider container gardening or window gardens. Plant herbs from your kitchen window or grow tomatoes from your patio. Container gardening lets you avoid the tilling and overgrowth of weeds, too! Plus, you can have as many or as few container plants as your heart desires. You can make your own containers and raised bed planters from old doors or other odds and ends from around the house. And container gardening is also a great way to introduce gardening to children.

Baby those Seeds. If you’ve got the time to start your plants from seeds, seeds are an affordable option. Best of all, planting seeds indoors during the winter really helps to get a jump on the gardening season. Plus, there’s something satisfying about watching a seedling sprout into a full-grown green bean plant.

Compost plant photo

Recycle your Waste. Kitchen waste, dead plants, lawn scrapes and leaves — they’re all good for something. Using your waste for next year’s garden helps to make nutrient-rich soil. There are lots of ideas for “lasagna” gardening and composting your waste to help fertilize your soil, right here on Mother Earth News!  So the next time you make a salad, save those scraps in a kitchen composter or go big and get an outdoor composter.  Your garden will thank you later!

Sommer Poquette is a popular mom blogger and avid gardener who writes on gardening topics for The Home Depot. For Home Depot's wide selection of perennial flowers mentioned by Sommer, you can visit the company's website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



It’s not surprising that more and more young people have become enchanted with the idea of growing food.  Cultivating a livelihood through aligning oneself to the natural rhythms of this world serves as medicine for a soul who has lost contact with its source.  Young people these days grow up in an age of connectivity in contrast with severe disconnection.  Our wires and communications stretch the globe while our hands are rarely gestured to enter the forest or to press a seed into the Earth. 

The virtues of a simple life, lived out in such a way that both the wildlands and human communities prosper, has a beckoning that nourishes those who seek to do good.  This way of life not only preserves the incredible heritage of the people who came before, but also protects small pieces of our vanishing natural world.  It is dreamlike and idyllic, and yet rendered almost impossible by the innumerable sacrifices the modern day farmer must make to get by.

With 63 percent of farmland on the cusp of transition to the next generation, it is more important than ever to support and nurture the budding interest young people have in growing food for a living.  Soaring land and equipment costs, a difficult and biased marketplace, limited income, and the physical and mental stress of managing a working farm make the end goal of being a farmer seem all but unattainable.  Individuals who are interested in this way of life come by it to serve their communities and this Earth, to make an honest living and bring harmony between humans and their landscapes.  The financial rewards are so limited and burdens so many that we as a society must choose to support these brave individuals with our local economies and through local and national policy.

Public-Service Loan Forgiveness Program

In 2007, the United States Government deployed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program aimed to reduce the financial hardship of individuals paying off student loans with Public-Service-Job income.  The program has been made to forgive the remaining student loan debt of doctors, teachers, public-interest attorneys, nurses, nonprofit professionals, and government employees who have paid on their loans for 10 years or more.  This program is designed to lighten the load for those who are helping society the most and at the same time encourage more youth to pursue jobs in these fields.

Farming Is a Public Service

With the number of beginning farmers having decreased 20 percent from 2007 to 2012 and with only 6 percent of farmers today under the age of 35, the National Young Farmer Coalition wants to know why farmers are not included on the list of public service jobs scheduled to receive debt relief. 

The National Young Farmer Coalition is an organization that aims to support young and beginning farmers through representation, mobilization, and engagement both in the practical needs of the modern day farmer and through the monitoring of political policies that affect the farmers’ everyday lives as well as their ability to make a living. 

Through a nationwide network of farmers, consumers, and advocates, the coalition provides resources that give those who work the land the power to stand up for themselves and gives them a voice on Capitol Hill.  The Coalition recognizes farming as a public service for three specific reasons:  Farmers meet the population’s most basic need, the need to eat, they steward almost a billion acres of land in the United States, and they provide jobs for locals in rural areas.   After surveying 700 members and supporters, the Coalition found that on average, the student loan debt carried by each person to be $35,000.  With 30 percent of these individuals not even able to farm due to their monthly student loan payments. 

Act Now to Help Young Farmers

So how can you give your support to this important cause?  The National Young Farmer Coalition has worked tirelessly to prepare a report to include farmers in the list of jobs associated with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. They have put together an easy to use online messaging system that will deliver a thorough and well written message concerning farmers’ inclusion in the Program  to your local representatives.

If you are a farmer, you may complete a survey to indicate how much student loans have affected your ability to make a living as a farmer.  Along with a collection of other resources concerning the management of student loans and an awesome T-Shirt, the Coalition has given farmers, advocates, and consumers the opportunity to support the future of local food.

If you believe that farmers are providing a public service, make your voice heard.  Spend your dollars at the farmers market and tell your representatives that you value what your local farmers do for your family, community, and local economy.  Become a Member of the National Young Farmer Coalition and add your name to the list of individuals willing to stand up for the preservation of farmers and farmland alike.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


Autumn is finally here and soon it will be bringing much cooler temperatures (much appreciated after a long toasty summer) and plenty of falling leaves. If you happen to have trees such as Chinese Pistache, Liquidambar, Ash, Crape Myrtle and many others that grow well in the High Desert, you’ll have the added bonus of spectacular fall colors before the leaves drop to the ground. When the leaves do finally drop, think about recycling them into mulch or compost rather than putting them in the trash.


Leaves can be a great benefit to gardens and landscapes because they hold a number of nutrients that can be released back into the soil for plant use, thus reducing the need for added fertilizers. According to Compost Guide, “the leaves of one large shade tree can be worth as much as $50 of fertilizers and humus. Pound for pound, the leaves of most trees contain twice as many minerals as manure.”

Using the leaves as mulch or compost not only adds the additional nutrients to the soil for use by plants, they also help to keep the soil warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, helps the soil to retain moisture so you don’t have to water as often, and shades the ground preventing many weeds from growing. If you happen to be using needles from pines (or the leaves from oaks), you can get the added benefit of adding a little acidity to the soil for plantings that struggle with the High Desert’s alkaline soil.

There are a number of ways to collect the fallen leaves — leaf vacuums, blowers, mowers, and if you want to be “green," the old-fashioned rake. You can also help out your neighbors and collect their leaves as well. The leaves release their nutrients and break down best if they are ground up or shredded, so running them through a mulching mower or chipper-shredder does the trick.


Once the leaves have been shredded, you can place the leaves directly on the ground around your plantings as a protective mulch. Or better yet, since the leaves are more likely to blow away here in the High Desert, you can place these high-carbon leaves in a compost pile or bin and mix with some green garden or kitchen scraps (vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, etc.), manure, blood meal, cottonseed meal, grass clippings or nitrogen fertilizer, add some water and stir or turn periodically and have a nice batch of nutrient-rich compost for your spring garden. If the pile is not heating up, you might need a little more nitrogen-containing ingredients. For additional help in getting the pile to heat up, especially in the cooler months, you can cover the pile with clear plastic sheeting.

Now you know you can enjoy the leaves of your trees all year long — from the beautiful new spring growth to the great shade they provide during the summer heat, from the incredible fall colors to the nutrient-rich compost and mulch made from the fallen leaves.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement.  Read Part 1 of the Vibrant Valley Farm profile.

Now two years into their farm, both women admit it’s been a challenge, but both also express complete happiness with their decision.

“It’s hard, but I love this life,” Elaine said. “You eat what you grow. It’s very creative. It’s outside. I’m my own boss. It’s really nice to come up with our own schedule. We have so much fun working together. We take time off to make sure it’s still fun, but we just laugh a lot. The best job I’ve had thus far, for sure.”

“It is fun, but it’s also important to be able to be okay with the lonely time,” explained Kara. “I mean if you come from the city and you’ve got a lot of energy, you have to be able to step back and realize that the lonely time is a beautiful thing. And our culture has none of that… it’s like, next screen, next screen, next screen… it’s so intense. This helps you shed a lot of that. And another thing the farm teaches you is letting go. I’m getting into some philosophy over here, but it’s true. It teaches you about your life. Your relationship with yourself. Your relationship with everyone else. Your relationship with the land, and that you cannot be attached to anything.”

Elaine continues, “We always talk about the mandala of it. You work so hard to create this patchwork quilt of food… this artwork basically. And then it’s turned into the ground. It doesn’t disappear, of course, but you have to start all over. But each year is a fresh start, and you’re ready because by Spring, you miss the smell of the dirt and that righteous tiredness that comes with all the Spring preparation. You’re excited to get back at it. And that’s why we take winters off, which is super important for us. I think people who do year-round farming are badasses, but for me, I know that would mean burnout if I didn’t have winter off.”

“Being able to make that choice is nice,” adds Kara. “I mean there are people all over the world who do this type of work and don’t have a choice about taking time off. But I don’t have to worry about making sure my village has broccoli. I just have to make sure a couple people have broccoli. And we’re getting our farm systems perfected, so we don’t have any problem getting that broccoli or whatever to our customers.”

Both Kara and Elaine are clear about their goals, which remain the same from the day they started two years ago. Make the farm work first, then build in the educational component. Making the farm work means they had to begin as a CSA farm because it allowed them to begin farming even though they had extremely limited start-up capital. However, since launching their CSA, which they continue to grow, Vibrant Valley has begun acquiring additional customers from both the restaurant and grocery store ranks. Kara credits these gains to their outgoing personalities.

“We’re good at going out and meeting people and pushing our products,” explained Kara. “That’s our strength. I mean we could sit here and feel sorry for ourselves because we’re not selling enough, or we could say I’m tired and I want chocolate but instead I’m going to go hustle shishito peppers because we’ve got a ton of them. So we’re actively out selling our product, and at the same time we’re perfecting our systems, determining what works and what doesn’t, and figuring out what’s sustainable.”

Both women agree that when they started, it was farm management they were least confident about. But the business gains they’ve made with their farm have brought them to a point where they will be comfortable as they begin to expand their vision.

“A big part of our original goal was to teach,” said Elaine. “But we didn’t want to start that program without a viable business. Bringing ten to twenty young people out here simply would not work if we don’t know what we were doing. But now we’re at the point where we can begin serious talks about how to add in education, so we’re working on incorporating that element of it.”

Step one will be figuring out what the community needs and how Vibrant Valley would play into that. And they will need to determine what demographic to work with. Being city kids, they feel especially connected to urban youth, so that’s a distinct possibility. But their travels and experiences have made Elaine and Kara aware of food system injustices throughout society, so they anticipate looking at underserved populations everywhere, which could take them in a variety of different directions.

They anticipate that their search for educational partners will begin in Portland, and an area where Kara has extensive experience and relationships with a variety of schools and organizations.

“Once we determine who our allies are and who we can work with, then we figure out how our farm can fit with therapy or job training or whatever we decide to focus on,” explained Elaine. “Because based on our experience, we’ve seen how a farm can be everything. Beyond growing plants, farming teaches marketing, accounting, even floral design or event planning. There’s so much that fits in a farm, and as educators, we use this as our stage. But the final program will depend on the age and background of the population we’re working with.”

Lofty plans. But will they work? The combination of energy, pragmatism, and passion are difficult to bet against.

“It’s important to not get caught up in the idealistic young farmer mentality of just needing to do something and not worrying about making money,” said Kara. “You can definitely make money, and, in fact, you have to in order to keep it going. It’s just a matter of figuring out what that looks like. And part of that is letting go of what doesn’t work and embracing what does. And we can’t just run ourselves into the ground. That’s the martyrdom thing you have to avoid. In order to farm or teach well, you have to stay fresh. That’s the only way it will work.”

Elaine sums the conversation up with a look into the future. “I think I will always work with food, in one way or another. Food is everywhere. It could be on this land, on this farm. Or it could be elsewhere. I simply can’t guarantee where. But for me personally, I want to work with young people and food, no matter what.”

Get your copy of Planting a Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.

Author note: Since being interviewed for this profile, Kara and Elaine have relocated their farm to Sauvie’s Island, an agricultural community located just north of Portland, Ore.

Photo credit: All photos by Lisa D. Holmes. (Top) Vibrant Valley Farm owners Elaine Walker and Kara Gilbert. (Middle) At the head of rows of squash, basil and peppers sits Vibrant Valleys operations building. (Bottom) Elaine and Kara have successfully diversified their crops and now focus a great deal of energy on growing flowers for both retailers and CSA members.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.