Well, it’s been a busy busy month at The Seedlot, lining up ducks before Spring arrives in full force. Now that we know our soil is safe to work in and we have permission to teach in our space, we’ve been diving deep into the logistics of urban food production, hashing out everything from zoning and insurance to amending our clay-ey soil and finding a place to stash our tools. All the while stretching our $250 grant from the Portland Enhancement Project as far as humanly possible. So, let’s start at the beginning, eh?
First, we got a taste of everyone’s favorite subject, zoning regulations! The City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has been working for several years now with the Food Policy Council and other local groups to update the city’s zoning codes with the intent of encouraging and facilitating urban agriculture and neighborhood food security. Zoning codes regarding Community Gardens, Market Gardens, Farmer’s Markets, and CSA drop sites are all getting an update this year, and the proposed changes are now up for public review. What this will mean for The Seedlot is not quite clear, as our intent is to be a teaching garden that is accessible (though not open, per se) to the public as a resource center and hands-on learning space. We intend to sell starts and produce, but as a means to an end, that is, teaching gardening. So I’m not sure how we’re categorized. Fortunately, it looks like any existing sites will get grandfathered in under the new codes on July 1, so the fact that nowhere within the city limits is currently zoned for agricultural uses shouldn’t be a problem…
OK, so, soil: check. Zoning: check. Next on our list is the only thing more loathsome than city codes: insurance. As we are not the owners of this property nor, officially speaking, any kind of legal entity, we’ve got to make sure that we are protecting our own assets as well as those of our generous landlords when we invite others into our space. Our initial plan had been to use waivers or hold-harmless agreements (you can find ours here), but it turns out that you really lose that feel-good community-building vibe when you hand someone a legal agreement the moment they set foot on the property. And I doubt many parents would let their kids take classes here without coverage. So, in we dive. Thanks to our new friends over at The Garden at Lot 13 , we’ve contacted an agent and got a bid of $500 for one year of basic liability coverage. Eeep. And of course, we’d have to file as a business with the state first, another $100.
So, shoot dang! I guess we’re starting a business. Admittedly, the last thing I was going for, but it’s looking kind of inevitable right now. Starting a non-profit is another option, but we’d really like to operate somewhere in-between, a classification that regretfully does not yet exist in the state of Oregon. Six states have what’s called a Benefit Corporation, where social and environmental benefits have equal priority with financial profit. More aligned with our ideals is the Social Business model, or the new word-of-the-day: Sustainopreneurship, but I’m not sure which is the best for us or how to go about it. Regardless of the path we choose, we’ve got a lot of homework to do, and we’ve got to do it quick, and then start fundraising…That’s a lot of seedlings to sell just so we can start teaching classes!
Ultimately, considering we have no idea how long we’ll be able to work at this site, I’m most interested in starting a bigger, over-arching organization–Project Beet Generation–that could function as a cooperative or collective of educational gardening sites/programs around the city. One organization going for big grants and donations, one organization securing insurance and doing background checks on volunteers. One organization throwing big fundraising events and distributing resources equitably, one organization that could have a pool of resources (think school bus, greenhouse, curriculum library, mobile kitchen!) accessible to any sub-group that wants to join in with a shared mission and best practices….One organization employing a pool of garden-based educators and providing a living wage and training for those of us trying to make a career in this emerging field. It’s time to start casting the net a bit wider, I think.
In the mean time, we’ve been focusing largely on getting our space in working order; building a shed, adding fresh soil, and carving out steps and paths from the glass-filled clay we occupy. Before I go (sorry, you’ve got an English major typing here, I have a hard time posting quick notes and blurbs here), a quick shout-out and HUGE THANKS to the local businesses, friends and organizations that have donated time and resources to The Seedlot:
SCRAP–for donating $15 in credit that will supply us with countless Popsicle sticks and thank you cards;
The ReBuilding Center–for donating reclaimed lumber and a window for us to frame our shed and finish building terraces;
Brown Lumber Service–for donating plywood and 4x4s to help us finish our shed;
Do it Best Hardware–for donating the hinges for our door and windows and the deadbolt for the door so our shed is safe and secure;
Mt. Scott Fuel–for donating a yard of soil to get our seedlings started and our beds amended, as well as beautiful patio stone and sand to make the steps leading into The Seedlot welcoming and safe;
Diane Emerson–for sharing your passion, inspiration and goodwill, inviting us in for a most delicious lunch, and sharing extra materials that will soon be our compost bin and mulch for our beds and paths.
And last but absolutely not least, a big squishy thanks to the inimitable Jay Cryer and Kris Hargis, without whose time, expertise and tools, the above resources would remain a big pile of stuff, and not the beautiful tool shed we now have.
It’s almost finished now, I will post more pictures as well as updates about upcoming activities soon (and you can check our facebook page for more pics). Thanks also to my wonderful sister Ava for making the awesome signs that help people know what we’re up to and will the basis for our logo.
Meanwhile, the slushy snow-rain has subsided, and I’m way behind on sowing seeds… tomatoes and peppers, it’s go time!