It’s 10:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning in late July, and 15 families are lined up outside SnowCap Community Charities in the Rockwood neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Many have been waiting for over an hour in hopes that they’ll get first dibs at this food pantry, which is the largest in the state, serving over 9,000 people a month. The old model was that food pantries gave clients a pre-packed box of food. But SnowCap, like an increasing number of food pantries across the U.S., allows clients to “shop” or choose for themselves what they want to eat. There are limitations on some items, and generally speaking, the earlier they arrive, the better the pickings. Read more

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SoFresh Farms, in Canby, Oregon, is not what I expect. When I finally find it, on an out-of-the-way gravel road, I’m struck by how ordinary this rural neighborhood is. There’s a produce farm on one side; a man raising Longhorn cattle on the other. Magnificent Mount Hood dominates the skyline. Other than the 8-foot-high wooden fence surrounding the property, there’s nothing to tip me off that this is a cannabis farm.  Read more

When I moved to Portland four years ago and began frequenting the farmers’ market, it didn’t take me long to become obsessed with Gathering Together Farm’s vegetables. The farm’s stand drew me in with its bounty and its kaleidoscope of color: crisp peppers in green, red, yellow, and purple; fragrant bundles of fresh basil; and singular specimens that I’d never seen before, like watermelon radish and delicata “zeppelin” squash. Read more

Last fall, after wondering for years about whether I should buy produce from farmers who claim that they are “organic, but not certified,” I dug into some big questions about certification. That process led me to explore many other seemingly respectable food labels that—while much less popular than organic—seemed to offer a similar, if slightly different level of transparency between eaters and farmers. Read more

Each winter, tens of millions of Americans buy and decorate Christmas trees. Yet few of us think about what it takes to keep these trees looking so healthy and lush.

For most growers, it takes pesticides–and lots of them. It turns out that the majority of Christmas tree farms are plagued with destructive pests and noxious weeds that suck nutrients and moisture from the soil, leaving young trees sickly and ugly. As a result, the Christmas tree industry has become dependent on chemicals of all sorts. Read more

Whenever we go to the farmers’ market together, my husband and I disagree about whether we should buy the pricey certified organic berries (my husband’s vote) or the less expensive ones grown without certification, but described by the farm as “sustainably produced.” If I look deep into a farmer’s eyes and she tells me that her fruit is “no-spray,” I’ll buy her berries, saving almost a buck a pint. (After all, the strawberries we grow in our own backyard are not certified organic, but I feel good about eating them.)

Lately I’ve been wondering–is my husband right, or is no-spray enough? And what about the assertion—sometimes made by conventional growers—that certified organic farms use pesticides too? Read more

In many ways, Shari Sirkin and Bryan Dickerson, the farmers at Dancing Roots Farm in Troutdale, Oregon, have made it. They run a popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, their heirloom vegetables grace the menus at some of Portland’s finest restaurants—including Ned Ludd, Irving Street Kitchen, and Luce—and last year they won the prestigious Local Hero award from the environmental nonprofit Ecotrust. Read more

Amy Kleinman had never had a job with lasting appeal. Most recently, Kleinman, 28 and living with Asperger syndrome, taught at a day care center. “I was having a lot of trouble there,” says Kleinman. “Not with the kids—I loved the babies. I was having problems with the adults.”

Then, three years ago, Kleinman got a job at Cleveland Crops, an urban farm and nonprofit dedicated to community development and food security. Read more