The Future of Food is The Future of the Planet

A message from Slow Food Portland’s new Chair Russell Ruscigno.

Since Slow Food’s inception in Italy over 25 years ago, the world of food has changed both for the good and for the bad.

On the positive side, biodiversity, organic, and sustainable have become more than buzzwords, they now represent widespread movements in the United States and around the globe. Farmers markets, community support agriculture (CSAs), grass fed and pasture raised have new resonance in the national conversation, on the plate and in the marketplace. School gardens, urban gardens and community gardens are seeing unprecedented growth with more communities digging in each season.

At the same time, we see more food-borne outbreaks, more processed food, more unhealthy children, more PR and advertising campaigns from mega companies promoting questionable farming and processing practices, and less enthusiasm from politicians to take on these issues that may not fit with their fundraising efforts.

And here we are, Slow Food Portland, an all-volunteer organization with passion, commitment and ideals ready to foster the mission of “Good, Clean and Fair Food for All,”—a worthy mission, no doubt, but perhaps a bit too broad and a bit too global for each of us to grasp. So the challenge, today, is how can we translate that mission into action we can take, embrace and own? Own as individuals, as family members, as members of our community and our planet.

Am I a contributor to the solution or a bystander to this moment in time?

As a member of Slow Food Portland, you have an opportunity to attend events and participate in programs that are fun, informative and create an atmosphere to discover the impact you can make. By supporting the efforts of farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs and educators through outreach, fundraising, instruction and advocacy, our individual efforts combined with those of others create camaraderie and help move the food system closer to “Good, Clean and Fair Food for All.”

Slow Food Portland, together with Slow Food USA, Slow Food International and hundreds of local chapters around the world allows each of us an opportunity to build communities dedicated to a sustainable planet that can continue to provide nutritious, delicious, affordable food for ourselves and future generations.

So make a difference. Plan on attending any or all of the fun and delicious events highlighted in the newsletter. Volunteer to help the cause, keep your dues current, make an additional donation to help us stay financially sound and talk to family and friends about the importance of local family-owned farms.

Let’s keep the future of food and the future of the planet on our plates everyday.

I look forward to working with all our members to promulgate our mission, “Good, Clean and Fair Food for All,” and to make Slow Food Portland an important contributor to the future of food and the future of our planet.

Eat, Drink and Think Healthy
Russell Ruscigno

Edible Paradise: Winslow Food Forest

I met Winslow Food Forest founders Melissa and Teague Cullen at our annual potluck and became intrigued when they said they were farming in a very different way, and indeed they do. They agreed to share their story of what sounds like a veritable eden. I also discovered Teague was the talent behind the adorable illustrations on their business card. —Jane Pellicciotto

SF: You call your farm a food forest. What does that mean?

Winslow Food Forest illustrationA food forest is an edible garden designed to act like a forest ecosystem. Imagine wandering through a flourishing forest where nearly every plant is edible.

Overhead you see fruit and nut trees, plums, pears, apples, walnuts and almonds. Below, hazelnut shrubs and berry bushes sprawl between the trees, yielding blueberries, currants, goji and cornelian cherries. Scattered throughout the landscape are wildflowers, edible native plants, herbs, and vegetables. You can use vertical space by vining kiwis and jasmine. Even the cool forest floor is blanketed with vegetation such as chamomile, nasturtiums and mushrooms.

A food forest embraces biodiversity, with each organism playing a role. Food forests are designed to function as a closed-loop ecosystem with each element of the system supporting the whole. The complexity of relationships happening in a food forest results in a resilient ecosystem which largely self-maintains by:

  • producing food, fiber, medicine, materials, fodder
  • building soil and accumulating nutrients
  • self-fertilizing, self-mulching, self-balancing
  • sequestering carbon, offsetting climate change
  • providing habitat for all living organisms, including pollinators and beneficial insects

When did you create your edible paradise?

Melissa and Teague CullenSince we broke ground only a year ago, Winslow Food Forest is quite young in terms of food forests. A young food forest produces more annual veggies and, as it matures, it transitions to primarily perennial crops. Once established, food forests have the potential to last for many generations. Food forests are likely the worlds oldest form of gardening, as established ones can thrive indefinitely with human guidance.

Can you put how you farm into the context of farming as most of us know it?

There are many reasons to be concerned about the long-term sustainability of conventional agricultural systems. In fact, we now recognize conventional agricultural practices to be a major contributor towards climate change, environmental destruction and desertification. Food forests are living perennial proof that industrial agriculture is not the only way to feed the world.

Conventional farms are often planted as a monoculture, which is the cultivation of a single crop. When monocultures are planted on a large scale, the result is the removal of entire ecosystems. Top soil is lost through tilling, and water systems are polluted through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. This unnatural imposition on the land results in fragile landscapes that depend upon a staggering amount of inputs in order to operate. The end result is land that is all used up, depleted, and deserted.

On the other end of the spectrum lies a food forest, which is by nature a polyculture, meaning a diverse mix of plants. While organic farms have taken enormous strides in healing our food system, many organic farms are still based in annual vegetable crops, halting the succession of the forest ecosystem at ground level.

Do you have specific goals moving forward?

Yes, our plan is to develop a multi-story perennial system of food production, taking things a step beyond sustainable. We are powered by solar panels, well and rain water, and we plant and harvest by hand. We interrupt several local waste streams by taking in cardboard, wood chips and yard debris to cycle into our natural system.

Tell us a little about yourselves? How did you come to farming?

This is an emerging grassroots project started by 3 people, Teague and Melissa Cullen, along with Teague’s cousin Nick Eymann. We were all involved elsewhere prior to starting Winslow Food Forest.

I have a background in psychology and social work, while Teague has a background in music and audio engineering. Nick has a culinary background. Growing up, Teague spent a lot of time at Nick’s family Cactus Nursery in Phoenix, Arizona. Similarly, I grew up visiting my great grandma’s farm in Illinois. These early experiences had an impact on us all.

Teague had the idea of starting a Plant Start CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and in 2013, with the help of a small business grant from Mercy Corp NW, we grew and delivered edible seedlings to the doorsteps of Portland gardeners.

We ended up in Boring, Oregon, because a woman named Paulette Spencer heard about us. Paulette was intrigued and offered us the opportunity to expand our project on her land in Boring. We gladly accepted and moved into a log cabin apartment on her land in late 2013. This move coincided with the completion of our Permaculture Design Course with Toby Hemenway.

As certified Permaculture Design Consultants, we began planting Winslow Food Forest in late 2013 and have nearly two acres planted. We have eight acres here, and will continue to establish more food forest!

What does your farm offer?

Melissa Cullen holding seedlingWe have both a farm stand and CSA shares.

Harvest Share: Enjoy a weekly box of seasonal heirloom veggies, greens, herbs and eggs from our heritage hens. Berries, flowers and orchard fruit will also be included throughout the season.

Seedling Subscription: Organically grown veggie seedlings for your garden, delivered monthly at the ideal outdoor planting times.

Farm Stand:
Open April through October, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am–5:00 pm.
We accept SNAP on site.

We’re located at the end of the scenic Springwater trail at 12525 SE 272nd Ave, Boring OR, 97009

School Gardens Grow More Than Just Food

Oregon’s children are some of the hungriest children in the nation and have been last few years. Oregon also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country; we rank 49th. Childhood obesity is at a perilous rate nationwide. Do we continue to do the same things that don’t work or do we turn to better solutions?

The Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Summit, that took place January 29–30, in Salem offered a better solution. Organized by Willamette Farm and Food Coalition (Eugene) and Upstream Public Health (Portland), this was the second annual event. Among the 300 attendees, two of our Slow Food Portland steering committee members attended.

Food Corps in song

FoodCorps Oregon service members leading the audience in a song about plant parts.

Michelle Ratcliffe, PhD, farm-to-School specialist, spoke to the audience the first day. Oregon is ahead of the game when it comes to schools buying local foods and in the number of school gardens. Last year, the USDA’s Farm to School census, found Oregon school districts devote 24 percent of their food budgets to buying local food, the highest in the country. Additionally, with close to 600 school gardens—close to half of our schools—we are leading the way in edible education.

According to keynote speaker Dilafruz Williams, professor of educational leadership and policy at Portland State University, her research shows that learning gardens do many positive things. In a school garden, through touching, tasting and interacting in the garden, students learn healthy eating habits, food literacy and develop environmental empathy. Garden education also enhances curiosity, wonder, collaboration and movement. Students learn how to compost and plan a garden, and engage in science, math and reading working in a garden. Importantly, when kids grow vegetables at school, they get to explore new senses. Studies have also shown that attendance is up on school garden days. Oregon’s FoodCorps service members and many others are combatting childhood obesity through garden education.

Insect making

Participants at a breakout group learn to use various herbs, fruits and vegetables to create bugs as a tool to teach kids about the insects in the garden.

On a national scale, Slow Food is involved in school gardens and edible education because it believes every child deserves to grow up knowing where food comes from, how to grow, cook and share it, and how to be healthy. Andy Nowak, director of the school garden program at Slow Food USA, gave several talks at the Summit, including one about fundraising for school garden programs. He shared a number of ideas used by chapters around the country. Slow Food Portland as been involved in the school garden movement in the past, but doesn’t currently play a targeted role. It depends on our all-volunteer capacity and goals for each year. However, we’d love to hear from you if you’d like Slow Food Portland to play a bigger role in edible education.

Do you want to be involved? Share your ideas!

Special thanks to Djamilla Moore, author of Radicle Learning, and Emily Ritchie for these photos.

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This post was contributed by Emily Ritchie, who recently completed three years working for FoodCorps, a national AmeriCorps program, that supports emerging leaders teaching kids, building school gardens and connecting farm and school. Emily is passionate about simple, fresh food for all, and sparking interest in healthy eating in the next generation. In her position as Oregon’s program manager at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, she catalyzed Boat to School, bringing Oregon seafood into school lunches while connecting rural fishers to urban areas. She also serves on the steering committee for Slow Food Portland.