Good growth

At new 50Fifty Farm in Camas, focus is on sustainability, giving back to community

Get to know 50Fifty Farm:

What: 50Fifty Farm is a 12-acre, sustainable Camas-area farm run by two women who hope to give 50 percent of their efforts back to the community through educational opportunities, donated food and reduced-cost boxes of recently harvested produce.

Who: Farmers Stephanie Faull and Michelle Week met in 2015 while working at a Portland-area REI store. They started 50Fifty Farm in February of 2017.

Where: The farm is located on a 12-acre plot in Camas at 25515 N.E. Brunner Road.

CSA Boxes: The farmers still have a few spots open for their 2018 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes. A CSA box is a weekly box of just-harvested produce, available for pick-up at the farm or in Southeast Portland, that costs $300 or $500 up front, depending on how much produce you want. The farmers choose the produce and fill the CSA boxes for 20 weeks, starting the first week of June. To register and pay for your Camas-grown CSA box, visit https://50Fifty.farm.

More info: Read blogs and sign up for your own CSA Box information at https://50Fifty.farm; check out photos from the farm on Instagram at @50Fiftyfarm; or connect with the farmers on Facebook at www.facebook.com/50FiftyFarm. To learn more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), visit the Portland Area CSA Coalition at www.portlandcsa.org.

A bee pollinates a sunflower at 50fifty Farm in Camas last year. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Faull)

Farmer Michelle Week grew up in 4-H and has always kept rabbits. She would like to grow meat rabbits on the 50fifty Farm she owns with her business partner and friend, Stephanie Faull. Pictured here are two of Week's female Champagne d'Argent rabbits.

A daily specials sign at Our Bar in Washougal last year shows that the local restaurant is using green tomatoes from 50fifty Farm in Camas to make a special that also includes roasted cauliflower, a fried egg and a fresh tomatillo crema. Our Bar is located at 1887 Main St., in downtown Washougal. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Faull)

Fresh produce from 50fifty Farm is available through weekly Community Supported Agriculture boxes. Stephanie Faull and Michelle Weeks, the 50fifty farmers, also will bring their produce to the Camas Farmers' Market every other week through the 2018 market season. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Faull)

Picasso the donkey is in a rather tricky position. Having tangled his tie-out around a pole, the young animal is looking for a little help from his new human friends.

Farmers Stephanie Faull and Michelle Week laugh as they try to coax Picasso back around the pole, shaking their heads as the donkey retraces his original steps moments after the women have finally freed him.

Instead of fighting a stubborn donkey, Week takes Picasso’s lead off the pole while Faull walks across the field to fetch the donkey’s brother, Perry.

Together, farmers and donkeys walk toward the back 5 acres of their 12-acre Camas farm. Here, a copse of protected Oregon white oaks stands in stark relief against green fields ready for tilling.

“This is a big part of our ‘dream farm,'” Week says, gesturing to the slender white oaks. “These are protected, but 90 percent of protected white oaks in Oregon and Washington are privately owned and endangered. There’s no control. They can fine you for cutting them down, but most builders don’t care about that. They just pay the fine. It’s the cost of doing business.”

Week and Faull have a much different plan for their tiny white oak forest. If they can make enough money from the rest of their 1-year-old, sustainable 50Fifty Farm — selling their pesticide-free produce to local chefs and to the public at farmers’ markets and via Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes — the farmers will find a more holistic use for the white oaks, perhaps turning the back 5 acres into an educational opportunity to teach about foraging and collecting wild edibles.

First, however, the farmers will concentrate on getting their young farm up to speed.

This is the second growing season for 50Fifty and the farmers have high hopes for the land. Last year’s efforts brought successful harvests of green tomatoes — which they sold to Our Bar in Washougal — collard greens, Hungarian wax peppers, chives, tomatillos, broccoli, red Russian kale, borage, blackberries and cherry plums. This year, the farmers hope to produce these foods as well as increase their yields on a few “staples” like green bell peppers, cucumbers, edible flowers, Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, cherry and pear tomatoes, and heirloom Brandywine tomatoes.

Even when they’re growing staple foods, the farmers try to find a unique variety of that particular fruit, vegetable or green. This year, for example, they’re growing Dragon carrots, which are purple on the outside and orange-red on the inside.

“We would love to introduce more people to these staples that are familiar but maybe not too familiar,” Faull says.

One of the best ways for people to open their eyes to a whole new world of nutritious and unique produce — and support small, diversified farms like 50Fifty, which help the environment by greatly reducing the energy needed to get food from farm to table — is through the CSA box program. By paying for 20 weeks’ worth of produce boxes up front, CSA boxes help farmers like Faull and Week have enough money to run their farm and grow their food. “It is literally seed money,” Week jokes.

At 50Fifty Farm, the CSA boxes are available in two sizes: small and large. Both will be available for weekly pick-up at the farm, off Northeast Brunner Road in Camas, or near Faull’s house in Southeast Portland — yes, the farmers commute to work on their farm, which is not an uncommon practice in rural areas that border urban spaces, according to Faull and Week. The small box costs $300 up front and will provide four to six varieties of produce each week, for 20 weeks, beginning the first week of June. The large box costs $500 up front and provides eight to 12 varieties of produce each week for 20 weeks, also beginning the first week of June. The farmers are blogging online and sending newsletters to CSA supporters, which will include recipe ideas and information about the unique, heirloom produce.

Educating others about sustainable farming practices, growing our own food and preserving that food is something Faull and Week are passionate about. Both grew up in families that taught them the basics of gardening and growing flowers and vegetables, but neither woman ever heard, “you can be a farmer,” while growing up. In fact, it wasn’t until they met in 2015 while working at a Portland-area REI store, that Faull, 27, and Week, 30, even thought about farming as a career choice.

Week’s parents owned the 12 acres off Brunner Road, and the women decided they could make something of the land. But farming isn’t just something that a young person can jump into as a full-time career. In fact, both Faull and Week are working nearly full-time jobs while they try to turn 50Fifty Farm into the farm of their dreams.

On their online blog, Week writes about their process:

“The path to farmer has only just begun. To call our current space a farm would cause some debate. But to call our space a garden would undermine our hopes and dreams. It would halt it in its growth and evolution. We won’t be held back and neither will our ground,” she states. “We are farming for subsistence, we are farming for the environment, we are farming for those who’ve felt hunger, we are farming for the revolution, for economic and environmental justice, to be good stewards of a tiny parcel of land that should neither be abused nor ignored and wasted. We are farming because labor intensive work in the cold rain is more satisfactory and rewarding than money.”

Giving back to the community — educating others about food growing and preservation, reducing the cost of their CSA boxes for families in need and donating produce to food justice programs — is one of the main goals for the 50Fifty farmers.

“Our farming goals have always involved giving back. We settled on the title 50Fifty Farms, half because hashtag #50FiftyFarm was sleek and easy to read and because we wanted to be able to give back 50 percent of our farm’s production to our community; 50 percent of our efforts and labor are to go back free of charge to those less fortunate than us,” the farmers state on their website. “We are lucky to have free land, we are lucky to have tools and tractors at our free use, we are lucky to have the time and freedom to undertake this endeavor wrought with unknowns and zero guarantees.”

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