Farmer in the Hood

 

Ecofreak Kollibri

You want local? You got local: Kollibri Terre Sonnenblume (right) grows organic produce in the yards of Southeast Portland homeowners; one of his project partners (left) sorts through a box of vegetables.


KOLLIBRI TERRE SONNENBLUME (his name means “hummingbird,” “earth,” “sunflower” in Norwegian, French, and German, respectively) wasn’t trying to redefine the term “locally farmed” in spring 2007. He was trying to save his own hide. His organic-farming operation, Sunroot Gardens, was supposed to be located on a three-acre plot that he intended to rent in North Plains, about 20 miles west of Portland. But when a dispute arose with the owner of the parcel, he suddenly found himself sans land and in big trouble. Ten households had already paid him some $500 each for six months’ worth of fruits and vegetables—and they were expecting their first delivery of fresh organic produce in just a few weeks. “I’ve got to find someplace else to farm now,” Sonnenblume recalls thinking. So Sonnenblume, who owned no land, no tractor, not even a pickup truck (a silver cruiser bike was his sole mode of transport) did what he had to do: convince a bevy of Southeast Portland homeowners to let him garden in their front yards, backyards, side lots, even vacant plots. Some just wanted to help, others requested a share of his yield. “Each garden’s got its own story,” says Sonnenblume, who now has an inventory of some 30 plots, where he grows everything from multicolored peas and purple potatoes to heirloom white carrots and even Virginia tobacco (which he dries and hand-rolls for his personal pleasure). So how does big-city farming stack up to toiling in the country? “You’re less than a mile from where your salad is growing,” Sonnenblume says. Food doesn’t get any more local than that.