Urban Farm School teaches people how to love their gardens
STORY BY JESSICA SWANSON
Kendra Pearce and Toree Hiebert met in 2000. As soon as Kendra saw freshly canned foods stacked floor to ceiling in Toree’s house, she knew they were kindred spirits.
Both women moved to large acreages with their families, Toree to La Center and Kendra to Amboy and were farming and gardening for pleasure and food; pretty soon they had partnered up on a little Community Supported Agriculture operation, where they sold small shares of food they were growing. Eventually the two moved back toward the city, Toree to Vancouver and Kendra to downtown Ridgefield, where they continued to raise vegetables and ornamentals.
“We couldn’t give it up,” said Toree. “We had to do what we could in the
space we had.”
Toree worked as an elementary school teacher, while Kendra did environmental education for the Naturally Beautiful Backyards Program at Clark County.
“One day, I approached her and said ‘I had an epiphany,’” said Toree. “I was trying to find a way to bring everything together. I’m a teacher. I’m a mom who likes to grow good food for my kinds. I’m a farm girl at heart.”
That epiphany is now known as Urban Farm School.
Complementing each other’s styles and interests, the two women have formed a company that capitalizes, if unintentionally, on a back-to-the-land trend among Americans that appears particularly strong in Southwest Washington. UFS offers more than 40 different hands-on workshops throughout the year, including classes on canning, extending the garden harvest, freezing and drying, different kinds of composting, basic garden design, seed saving and converting grass to food production. The classes are nearly all full in the summer and popular year round.
In addition, the women teach a series of family-oriented classes, lead local field trips and organize springtime and harvest sales and
Toree offers in-home garden consultations, mainly in the spring. She also offers ongoing tutorials, which begin with a one-hour consultation for $50 and continue weekly at $25 for a half-hour. Toree’s service bridges the gap between self-teaching and hiring a landscape designer, which can be much more costly. That said, the two are thinking about pursuing a landscape design certification for Toree to continue to add value to the company.
Kendra handles the organization’s outreach, including its website and blog, marketing and administration. For her, it is full-time work from her 100-year-old home and small urban lot in Ridgefield. In her spare time, Kendra cultivates an ever-expanding food garden and has started dabbling in ornamentals, with Toree’s encouragement.
Urban Farm School’s “GardenforLife” parties are a particularly innovative offering. GardenforLife parties are privately commissioned garden parties hosted at a home or other place of the client’s choosing. Kendra and Toree offer activities and teaching on a theme. Friends, family or colleagues are invited to learn a new skill over the space of two hours. Some party themes include Fabulous Fruits, Container Gardening, Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Preservation Basics and From Lawn to Food: Starting your Vegetable Garden. Hosts are also welcome to come up with their own ideas. Each party costs $200 for a two-hour session that includes instruction, educational materials, door prizes and a host gift, and is limited to 15 guests.
“It’s like a Pampered Chef party without all the crap,” joked Kendra. Instead, she said, it’s about learning a skill with family and friends, “and keeping it for a lifetime.”
Kendra and Toree are passionate about creating a connection between food production and consumption. Too often, they hear kids saying food “comes from the store.” But they don’t bring their politics into the classroom. Kendra said their typical student is a mom who wants to get the most out of a little garden to feed her family, someone who says, “I want to do this, but I don’t know where to start.”
“We see that often this stuff builds community,” said Toree, who watches her students sharing ideas and stories after class. Some of these casual relationships turn into friendships.
Kendra has seen it at work in her own life.
“No one (in my neighborhood) talked to me until I put in the garden,” said Kendra. “Now, I know all my neighbors.”
Urban Farm School recently began offering brown bag lunches and intends to reach out to corporations and other organizations interested in bringing these kinds of skills to their employees. Each of the women is working on building a community garden in a different part of the county, and a dream of theirs is for Urban Farm School to have its own location, with a demonstration garden, classrooms and community space.
Students often wonder where the “school” is, said Toree, “as if they picture a little old one-room schoolhouse.”
She smiles as she says it, as if she can picture it too.
Solstice Wood Fire Café
story + photo By Charity Thompson
Leave it to Aaron Baumhackl to make a sausage-cherry pizza a best-seller.
As chef and co-owner of Solstice Wood Fire Café in Bingen, Aaron specializes in wood-fired pizzas with unique local toppings, such as the cafe favorite with cherries, chorizo sausage, goat cheese and rosemary.
Aaron got his start in restaurants at age 15 in California, first at a Spanish tapas restaurant and later riding the first wave of the California-style pizza trend.
“It drew me in because I like to eat and I like to create,” he said of the industry. “I like to see results fast.”
Along with that background, Solstice’s creative pizzas come from a playful approach among kitchen staff.
Solstice Wood Fire Cafe
415 W. Steuben St. (Highway 14), Bingen
“In the kitchen, everybody has a voice,” he said. “We’ll come up with a dish, plate it and see what other color combinations can go in there to make it (reflect) the season.”
Aaron’s menus change with the seasons. This fall’s menu includes a pizza with local butternut squash, leeks, bacon and blue cheese. He’ll also dish up Siragusa pear salad and pizza, huckleberry crisp and huckleberry pizza with prosciutto, mascarpone and arugula.
He keeps an eye on the local farm scene with his wife and co-owner, Suzanne Wright Baumhackl.
“Literally, we’re surrounded by farms,” Aaron said. “We see a tractor go by with eggplant and say, ‘Eggplant’s in season – what should we do?’”
Solstice has two plots at Bingen’s community garden – one for its kitchen and one for the local food bank.
Its menu also includes foods less common in rural areas, such as sautéed kale and quinoa chowder.
“We’re trying to keep it simple,” he said, “and let the food speak for itself in flavor and nutrients.”
Story + Photos by Temple Lentz
Hypothetical question: Say it’s winter 2008-2009. You’ve just bought your first house, you’ve moved across town to a neighborhood where you don’t know anyone, and the economy has tanked. What’s the first thing you do?
For Anna Petruolo and Lisa Robbins, the answer was clear: start a neighborhood garden.
On the surface, the idea is deceptively simple. Their Fruit Valley house in Vancouver has a huge yard, and Lisa and Anna wanted to grow their own food in a garden. When they worked out some numbers, the possibilities were staggering.
Anna Petruolo And Lisa Robbins
Fruit Valley Neighborhood, Vancouver
“It turns out we have about 1,000 square feet of plantable space,” Anna said. “There’s no way the two of us could eat that much food.” Instead of scaling back their ambitions, they started to think even bigger.
The Fruit Valley neighborhood is unglamorous but charming. The houses are simple and functional, and the population is broadly diverse. One of the reasons the area is affordable for so many people is that it is somewhat cut off from the rest of the city.
“There is no grocery store nearby,” said Anna. “The only place to go is the Chevron station or the Minit Mart.” Urban farms and community gardens are increasingly popular ways for
residents to empower themselves, get healthier, and spend productive time outdoors.
Anna envisions the garden as a loosely organized neighborhood gathering place.
“Come by, help us weed for a little bit, and take home a few tomatoes. Or bring your own seeds and work with us to learn about companion planting and soils.” Toree Hiebert and Kendra Pearce from Urban Farm School helped plan the garden, and are interested in holding classes there. Within three years, Lisa and Anna plan to have vegetables, fruit trees, succulents, flowering annuals, and even an outdoor kitchen. Petruolo, a personal chef, is very excited about this vision.
“We want it to be full circle. You plant and tend it, harvest, and then come right around the corner and I can show you what to do with, say, 10 pounds of carrots.”
WSUV Digital Technology and Culture Program prepares generation 2.0 for local service
Story + Photos By Jessica Swanson
The Washington State University Vancouver Digital Culture and Technology Program is heading into its teen years and growing up fast.
The department is also playing a big part in the success of Clark County nonprofit organizations, businesses and the arts community.
Students concentrate in one of three areas: multimedia authoring, informatics or culture and technology. Many intend to pursue careers or start companies in design, production, music, web analytics and other areas of technology communication. These are student entrepreneurs. Twenty-two-year-old Sarah Richards plans to head into music promotion after graduation. A DJ at KOUG radio, she transferred into the DTC program from Clark College, but said many of her peers are transferring in from other WSU programs.
“I know many people who are switching over to it because it sparked their interest,” she said. “It allows us to be more creative.”
Matthew Wright, 26, wants “to be able to get a good solid job in a technical field,” such as producing music for websites. A former music major at Eastern Washington University and an electronic music junky, DTC is a good fit for his interests. Matthew is heading up a project to create a promotional video for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s about how orchestral music and community symphony benefit the community,” he said, adding that a perk of the project is spending time with a professional composer and conductor, paths he can also see himself pursuing.
The Vancouver Symphony video is an example of a Senior Seminar project. DTC majors can choose to intern at a for-profit business or be part of a team project for a nonprofit in their senior year. Teams of DTC students have created videos for the Council for the Homeless, Bonneville Lock and Dam, Vida’s Ark and Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington; websites for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, At Home At School, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Living in Southwest Washington; and animations for the Clark County Fire and Rescue.
DTC on the web
The opportunities are many, but Program Director Dene Grigar and Professor John Barber don’t advise students to jump into opportunities before they are ready. They do stay close by in order to push when the time is right.
Matthew’s Vancouver Symphony team was put together in just this way.
“They’ll recommend things to you that are your strengths,” he said, “and help find people to compensate for your weaknesses.”
A force in the community
Dene believes the best way to grow the program – and to get her students the careers they want – is to be a force in the community. She approached Vancouver’s North Bank Artists Gallery because a gallery was an important venue the
program was lacking. It has proven to be a good match. The gallery has hosted events of all sizes there, and at least a dozen students have been accepted into North Bank’s shows, said Gallery Manager Kathy Rick. Kathy, a multimedia artist and photographer, also teaches a class in the DTC program, Digital Diversity and Culture, which deals with cultural issues such as racism, politics and gender and how technology plays into them. Dene invited her to teach the class, and she loves it.
A DTC multimedia forum is scheduled for October at the gallery, and the relationship seems destined to continue for some time.
“I think it’s been an incredible pairing,” said Kathy. “The DTC program is so incredibly vital and exciting, and we
celebrate that with them.”
Dene, who was hired in 2006, has a master plan for the program. She has spent her first three years building the program and making relationships in the community. Now, she is devoting time to formulating a Master’s degree program and would like to see a post doctoral think tank-type of organization housed at the university, an “institute of the future.”
But now, a big focus is on getting her students into the workforce, and started on creating future workforce opportunities – a special challenge in this economy.
“This is what the community needs,” she said. “We want to turn out people who are going to create jobs and create opportunities.”
9.14.09 It makes me so happy that summer has not yet come to an end. More evidence is Thursday’s free garden tour at the Fort Vancouver garden just north of the Fort gate at Fort Vancouver National Site. From 10 a.m. to noon, we can see some of the varieties of vegetables and flowers that were grown in the 1840′s and meet the volunteers who maintain the garden that provides produce for the Fort kitchen. Light refreshments will be served.
Some fun history: In the 1840′s the garden at Fort Vancouver covered from five to eight acres and contained beds of carrots, turnips, cabbage, potatoes, squash, parsnips, cucumbers, peas, tomatoes and beets, as well as a variety of fruits and flowers including roses and dahlias. The Hudson’s Bay Company provided seeds and cuttings for local Native Americans interested in agriculture, and later, American settlers to the region.
Just show up — reservations are not necessary.