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Multnomah County officials break ground on CROPS 2.0 to help train new generation of farmers

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Officials and farmers broke ground on a new incubator site in Troutdale to uplift Black farmers. More than a decade ago, a Multnomah County employee was tasked with creating a learning farm in East Multnomah County.

Jerry Hunter, with support from volunteers, took on a wild and overgrown three acres across the street from McMenamin's Edgefield in Troutdale. He removed thick blackberry brambles and tilled the land to create CROPS (Community Reaps our Produce and Shares) — a Multnomah County program that uplifted aspiring farmers of color and created a space for them to learn new skills.

But that land went defunct, sold to McMenamin's for eventual expansion, planting the seed for a new program helmed by a pair of farmers originally motivated by Hunter and his farm.

"We were inspired and guided by the folks like Jerry who came before us," said Shantae Johnson, of Mudbone Grown. "His passion led us to create our own family compound centered around growing crops for the community."

Mudbone Grown was tasked by county leaders to helm a new incubator farm, just south of Hunter's original plot, to continue the task of taking on food insecurity while bolstering burgeoning Black farmers like Johnson and her partner Arthur Shaver.

"We are so grateful to the Mudbone team for their partnership — we would not be here today without their support," said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. "What we eat impacts how we feel and how healthy we can be."

COURTESY GRAPHIC: MULTNOMAH COUNTY - The plans for CROPS 2.0 include a barn, greenhouse and orchard. On Monday, Sept. 26, county leaders and farmers gathered for a celebratory groundbreaking of CROPS 2.0, 3.5 acres located at 1700 W. Historic Columbia River Highway, adjacent to County Animal Services.

"This site was barebones," Johnson said. "But now it is a place where we will share resources and opportunities."

The barn will also have a plaque dedicated to Hunter and the work he did for CROPS.

Oregon's history has not been kind to Black farmers, with many laws preventing the community from getting a toehold in the industry. The result is that according to the latest U.S. Census data, there are only three Black farmers in Multnomah County. In addition the county said that 18% of Black or multiracial families experience high food insecurity, which is three times higher than white families.

The hope is CROPS 2.0 will begin to change that.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - From left, Jerry Hunter, Shantae Johnson and Chair Deborah Kafoury were all smiles at CROPS 2.0. The farm will be split into different sections cultivated by Black and African immigrant farmers. There will be a shared barn, greenhouse, hydroponics farm, an orchard and more. All elements will include learning opportunities and pooled resources to ensure everyone succeeds.

To help spur the new farm the Multnomah County Commission allocated $500,000 for the project.

"This is a new chapter for the CROPS Farm — not only to help people in need, but allowing them to eat healthier and learn new skills," said Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who sponsored the budget amendment to support the new farm.

The expectation is CROPS 2.0 will be completed by next summer.

"We are very excited about what the future holds," Johnson said.

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