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Urban farming is a trend we've reported on before. This project takes the next step...

DAVID F. ASHTON - Teague and Melissa Cullen tell THE BEE theyre ready for a new growing season here, at whats planned to be Inner Southeast Portlands first Food Forest. An open field on S.E. Sherrett Street near 35th Avenue in the portion of the Ardenwald neighborhood within the City of Portland has long been farmed – but urban growers Melissa and Teague Cullen now have a plan to turn it into what they're calling the "Winslow Food Forest".

"This lot, a little over a half acre, has been farmed since the mid-1990s," explained Melissa, at the site.

The couple was awarded a lease by the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability after responding to a "Request for Proposal" seeking a new tenant for the site.

For the Cullens, this is more than simply an experiment. "We're going into our fifth year of being full-time urban farmers," Melissa pointed out. "But, being relatively new at it, we are learning a lot, and always improving. Our focus on 'Food Forestry' is a way of growing food that mimics a woodland ecosystem. The food forest layers will include fruit and nut trees, along with berries, herbs, edible flowers, vegetables, and tuber crops."

Right now, at the start of the growing season, the lot still looks relatively barren.

"Yes, it looks like sticks in the straw," conceded Teague. "In the late spring and the summer, it will start to look like a cottage garden. This is a 'baby food Forest' right now; and will fully mature in eight years."

The couple's long-term aspirations are based on obtaining a ten-year lease with two options to renew, making it potentially a thirty-year lease.

"The garden will be productive in our first year, but after a few seasons it will really pop," grinned Teague.

Melissa said their business model is that of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. "Members in our CSA get 'shares' of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers; and we also have a 'Seedling Share' program, in which we deliver plant-starts to our members.

"We're providing tomatoes, cucumbers, vegetables, and herbs that everybody loves to eat, fresh out of the garden," Melissa reflected. "But our main focus is growing perennial plants – such as fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennial herbs, perennial groundcovers and things that work together in an ecosystem, which is the theory behind food forestry."

Right now, they're topping out their two CAS programs at 20 members each. In addition, the couple offers workshops teaching food forestry principles. It's a lot of work for a young couple with an infant child, but they say it's worth the effort.

"The best part of this, for me, is having an intimate, personal relationship with so many different kinds of plants," Teague said. "We grow 100 crops on less than an acre, versus one crop on hundreds of acres. It's a much more intimate scale when you're growing plants in that way."

For more about this urban Food Forest farm, go online: winslowfoodforest.com

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