Woman grows community at small Happy Valley farm
Jen Browning is spending her days wrangling chickens, planting vegetable starts and attacking weeds, and she loves every minute of it.
Browning is a first-generation farmer at Juniper Layne Farm in Happy Valley. Her parents moved to the property 13 years ago, and in 2019 they allowed her to take over an eighth of an acre.
Last year, she sold vegetables at the Moreland Farmers Market in Sellwood and at a coffee shop in Southeast Portland.
"This year I am doubling the size of my farm to a quarter-acre on my parents' property (and) will continue to sell at the Moreland Farmers Market," if virus restrictions allow farmers markets to open as usual.
Even if restrictions are still in place, Browning hopes to have Farm Fridays from 2-6 p.m. starting May 1.
"Each Friday the farm stand will be open, and people will be able to walk around and see the farm and meet our flock of laying hens," she said.
She also will offer her version of the Community Supported Agriculture program with a market card, a prepaid gift card that can be used to purchase produce throughout the season.
Juniper is a nickname given to Browning by her younger brother and Layne is her middle name, so that's how the farm got its name.
Working the land
Last year Browning continued to work her full-time regular job online in addition to farming her land, but this year she took the leap to quitting her job and farming full time.
"I'm not having to balance another job, and I am growing at a scale I feel comfortable with. I love the work," she said.
Browning said she has always been interested in where food comes from and the impact of food on the health of the country. She read books and articles and watched documentaries about farming, while her desire to grow her own food and provide food for the community continued to grow.
"The catalyst for launching the farm came after I was a foster parent to twin babies for four months in spring/summer of 2018," when she moved from Seattle to Portland to care for the twins.
"It was the most profound experience of my life, and after they returned to their biological father, I decided I just couldn't go back to my job in Seattle. I wanted to do what I really loved," Browning said. She noted that the babies are not related to her, but there is a connection to another family member.
She volunteered for a couple of months on a farm in Sandy after the twins left, and she said it was among the most healing things she did during those first months.
"I decided it was time to start the farm; I felt like I would regret not trying."
Browning took business classes through Mercy Corps and put together a business plan. She also qualified for a matching grant from the Oregon Individual Development Account Initiative Program, which supports small businesses.
Once she earns $1,000, the IDA program will put $5,000 in her account.
Truly doing something she loves has reaped benefits.
"I love being able to work outside, getting to know my customers at the market and getting feedback," she said.
Her farm logo is a big carrot, and last year at the market she was scolded by a 4-year-old boy when she ran out of carrots.
What has surprised her about the farm is how much food she can grow in a small space.
"I did not have an idea what an eighth of an acre can produce. I learned a lot and hope to triple what I am able to grow" this year, Browning said.
She added that her produce is completely organic.
"To control weeds, I use more landscape fabric, and I stay on top of them before they go to seed; I don't spray anything."
The biggest challenge, so far, has been dealing with the chickens.
"I'm trying to break them of eating their own eggs," Browning said, adding that she has purchased 18 chicks and is hoping to introduce them into the flock of hens, and hopes to have 23 laying hens by this summer.
Browning is looking forward to the summer months when she can begin Farm Fridays.
"I wanted to capitalize on the fact that the farm is in the middle of a neighborhood and close to a school," she said.
"I also want to cultivate the community aspect; young kids can come see the chickens and see how food is grown — see broccoli growing," Browning said.
"I want people to feel welcome here — that is my main motive. There is space to run around on grass here and be connected to a farmer."
Browning is going to encourage customers to purchase a market card. For every $100 they put on the card, she will add 10% onto that. Then customers can purchase whatever they want at the farm or at her stand at the Moreland Farmers Market.
Browning added, "I love to see food I've grown on someone else's table, and I love being people's vegetable supplier."
Eat your veggies
Learn more about Juniper Layne Farm and Farm Fridays at juniperlayne.farm or on Instagram @juniperlaynefarm.
Jen Browning will offer eggs, flowers and more than 25 vegetables for sale, including beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, fennel, garlic, turnips, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, peppers, salad mix, spinach and tomatoes.
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