All 3 farms are situated in North-East Portland because lots of vacant lots were available in that area a few years ago when these businesses got started. Now, those neighbourhoods are either experiencing fast change (and by that I mean increased rents leading to displacement of lower income residents and people of colour), as it is for Albina, or are on the verge of experiencing that change, as it is for Cully.
Over the course of these past weeks we’ve been questioning the role of urban agriculture within processes of neighbourhood change, and challenging urban agriculture practitioners to tell us about how they perceive themselves within these processes. And the answers we’ve been getting are similar between the 3 commercial farmers we interviewed – they are aware and concerned with neighbourhood change, but don’t see themselves or their businesses as being detrimental to the community in which they got established.
In all 3 cases, the farmers engage with the community (to various degrees) and they all believe their farm brings significant benefits to their neighbours. Quite simply, they have put in place these farms based on a commercial model because they are trying to do a job they find fulfilling and earn their living this way. But the end result, as I perceive it now, is that these farms contribute to accelerating processes of gentrification of these historically impoverished neighbourhoods, but do not actually help increase food security for the local residents since most of the produce is sold to restaurants in order to keep the farming business minimally profitable.
At the end of the day, this feels heartbreaking since all the people involved have the best intentions: the residents are trying to remain put in their neighbourhood and the farmers are trying to make a living doing a job they are good at (but which just so happens to have perverse negative externalities on the underprivileged residents around them). Looks like something needs to happen to help out these two different stakeholders – collectively, our group of passionate geographers, urban scholars and planners is currently in the midst of trying to come up with solutions. Stay tuned!