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Multnomah County launches program to support Black farmers

The new initiative from Multnomah County aims to create more equitable spaces in farming. Black farmers make up less than 1% of farmers in Oregon.

TROUTDALE, Ore. — What was once just blackberry bushes in East Portland will now be a real farm with crops.

This is all thanks to $500,000 in funding from Multnomah County. It will be owned by Black and African immigrant farmers to increase access to community health programs and nutritious food.

This is a new initiative from Multnomah County to create more equitable spaces in farming. In 2017, Black farmers made up less than 0.1% of landowners in Oregon, while 97% of farmers were white. And the most recent USDA farmers census showed there were only three Black-owned farms in Multnomah County.

Mudbone Grown, a Black-owned farming business in Portland, will oversee the new farm.

"We get to plant the seed and realize our dreams around food sovereignty," said Shantae Johnson, co-founder of Mudbone Grown.

Johnson and her husband have been farming for the past seven years and they're hoping to help connect other Black aspiring farmers to land and the marketplace to sell their crop.

"We just felt like being able to farm together cooperatively with other farmers that are like us was really important," Johnson said. "And being able to aggregate infrastructure, resources and support."

Jerry Hunter works with the county and CROPS. He created a farm in 2009 to help grow food for families in need. The acronym CROPS stands for Community Reaps Our Produce and Shares.

"I've always had a garden. I've always grown food, my children grow food, it's just in my DNA," Hunter said.

CROPS quickly became more than just a farming program. Hunter inspired many, including Johnson.

"As the Black community learns, they are going to resonate their learning and teaching to the people around them," Hunter said. "This community has always been a diverse community and that's been all my teaching as well. I teach everybody and want everybody to learn about eating healthy and being healthy."

Plans for the new farm include a barn, greenhouse, fruit tree orchard and more.

"You know it's just the beginning, really," Johnson said.

The main phase of construction for the farm is expected to be complete by mid-2023.

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