Finally… Spring has come. Time for spring showers to bring May flowers!
I’m Jeremy Bloom, co-chairman of Urban Agriculture on the Mayor’s Initiative for Healthy Sustainable Food Systems. What you say? You’ve never heard of that? Let me introduce you to one of the greatest things about Portland that no one knows about.
Three years ago when Mayor Brennan was elected, he wanted a project involving food systems. At the same time, cohort Jonah Fertig and I held monthly meetings at Local Sprouts about food systems, and we held a day-long event where over 100 Maine food system workers came together, where the Mayor spoke. Not long after that the new Mayor created the Mayor’s Initiative. And here we are three years later.
Now, we’ve accomplished a great many things in these years. More local food in Portland’s school system, after school and summer programs to make sure students are fed, better relations between city staff and restaurateurs, worked to pass a “label GMO” law in Augusta, held more community events to bring more ideas to our work, and the list goes on. As a volunteer in this, I’m proud of the work coming from this group.
Then there’s Urban Agriculture… what’s that about and what do we do?
The Mayor has tasked us to… reduce the wait list for a community garden plot, aid in developing an Urban Farm, create rooftop gardens, increase the amount of edible landscaping, and to assist in the piloting of a livestock vegetation management program on public land (sheep mowing).
To those ends, here’s where these priorities have taken us…
We received a grant for $16,000 to open a new garden this past summer. That garden will be on the Eastern Prom behind the tennis and basketball courts. We hope to open a new garden in Portland each year going forward.
To this end of opening new gardens, it can be confusing to start one. But a few have, and our committee will soon release a city engagement process so people can have a go at it themselves.
The garden in Payson Park was a citizen driven garden that is on public land. You need money, motivation, and a location. If you are reading this and want to start a community garden, contact me and I’ll push you in the right direction.
Thanks to Cultivating Community — that has a big role in our Urban Agriculture — we have a first rooftop garden on the new building recently completed at the corner of Forest Ave and Cumberland Ave. It’s a greenhouse and garden for the residents, but they will also use this as a teaching facility for the students they work with.
A fruit tree orchard has been started on the North Street slope near the current garden across from the school, and it’s name is Mount Joy Orchard. Twenty heritage trees will bring us apples, plums, peaches, paw paw, and more. And we’ll be planting another 20-ish trees this year.
Friends of Munjoy Orchard will be organizing planting/maintenance days, and all are welcome to join their meetings. There’s also apple and chestnut trees in Evergreen Cemetery, and Baxter Woods. As these trees mature past a few years, they will begin feeding us for decades.
One hundred years ago, many Portlanders owned animals, and pictures show lots of farmland. That’s gone now, but we are beginning a serious effort to find land for the purpose of opening an “Urban Farm”.
Last year, Portland Trails held several meetings about open spaces to get feedback from the community. This year, that feedback is moving forward. The top three things were more programming, better maintenance, and growing more food. I am there to represent the interest of Urban Agriculture in our open spaces.
One big piece is policy. We have struggled on making policy, but we’ve discussed things like tax incentives for homeowners to allow residents to garden. If you have ideas, bring them to us!
If you have interest or questions about anything I’ve said here, please feel free to email me, and below is a few web resources as well.
The Mayor’s Initiative meets monthly and is open to anyone. Urban Ag meets every other month and you can see the calendar on the Initiative’s page. Each group has an email list that all are welcome to be on, as well.
Much love and grow food!
Jeremy is the Internet Farmer focusing on cloud-based software for the local food movement, and works Sundays and Thursdays at Preble Street’s soup kitchen. He also enjoys riding a bike long distances, gardening and farming, watching John Stewart, reading and practicing food fermentation and presentation, and laughing.