Jeannie Berg Chris Homanics Nick Routledge
The Queener Farmers
Jeannie's essay "Why I Farm"
When I first started farming, only about seven years ago, I would have said that I love having my hands in the dirt and the plants. That is still true but it’s changed a bit. Now I would say it’s that I love the earth but that sounds too global for what I feel. I realize that there is not a word, at least not in English, for what it is I love. Earth, dirt, soil, biological systems hmm – none quite fit.
It is more about the life force within the earth, the soil, the trees and the plants. In the soil, it is the billion microbes per handful whose microscopic planets I pick up and throw around, in the green shoots it is the energy that drives them to burst from a tiny seed and grow huge in days, in the trees it is that pulse inside them that turns buds to flowers to leaves and fruit. It’s like there is this world in the soil with all these microbes, all this incredible energy and it just has to burst forth into our world in the form of tiny green shoots and big giant trees and everything in between. All those plants are the manifestation of the interaction between this dirt world of microbes, minerals, water below and this air world of gases, water and critters above. In this thin layer of soil, over miles of rock and magma and under miles of sky and gases is all that we are and all that we have.
Growing plants of any kind is getting to engage with the magic of the interaction of those layers and using that magic to get wonderful foods of all sorts. More than that though, as one grows to understand this interaction of worlds, it’s about taking on the obligation to care deeply for this layer of earth that sustains all that we know. To improve its health while teasing food we like from it. That’s the joy, helping to heal a little piece of the delicate skin of the earth where the magic happens and getting to eat the gifts it gives us in return. That’s why I farm.
Nick co-founded theFood Not Lawns avant-gardening collective which found its original genesis in Eugene, OR, in late 90's; set up and managed the nursery for the School Garden Project of Lane County, the foremost local non-profit organization gardening with children; helped start the Seed Ambassadors Project, a grassroots effort linking independent plant stewards internationally, and which continues to play a formative role in the stewardship of public domain food crops in and around the S. Willamette Valley; and initiated The Avalon Project, a for-the-community-by-the-community fruit tree nursery which grafted, grew and distributed thousands of free trees to individuals and non-profits in the Eugene-Springfield area.
He was caretaker at his local food bank farm for seven years, where he helped found, and managed, the nursery for the Community Transitions Garden, a project of the Community Transitions Program, which provides Springfield special-needs students between the ages of 16 and 21 with assistance transitioning into the adult world; and played a primary role establishing the annual Lane County Spring Propagation Fair, helping steward it into the largest organics-focused propagation fair in the country, and now, into its current metamorphosis as the Agrarian Sharing Network, a network of distributed propagation fairs freely distributing hundreds of fruit, vegetable, nut and mycological varieties to gardeners and farmers, bioregion-wide. In the spring of 2017, as part of his continuing efforts to support food-resilience throughout the PNW, he established major plantings of fruit diversity - about 800 varieties with a specific focus on disease-resilience - across the San Juan Islands, WA.
In recent years, Nick set up and managed the Upstart Nursery, a for-the-neighborhood-by-the-neighborhood vegetable and fruit tree nursery in the River Road area of Eugene, where he also played a pioneering role advancing 'neighborhood agriculture' as a basic template for a replenished participation in the human collective, forging new forms of community and solidarity with one another and the Earth. The River Road Elder-Care initiative he established in 2016 married large, neighborhood-distributed farm-scale plots serving free, fresh, year-round food to local elders through Reality Kitchen, a local restaurant the core focus of which involves employing young-adults with developmental delays.
A key interest of Nick's is year-round food production: he has co-led the foremost annual, bioregional workshop devoted to fall-and-winter gardening since 2003. Of late, his interests include collaborative work with OSU's Dry Farming Collaborative.
Nick has extensive experience working with people of faith around food-raising initiatives. He spent 2014-2015 in California where he moved to help establish the Canticle Farm Catholic Worker, a house of hospitality for members of the re-entry population, in association with Planting Justice. A current, multi-year regenerative-design project involves establishing the Women's Sanctuary Garden at the Eugene Mission, where he has played a guiding role transforming a devastated, former heavy-industrial site into a food forest and place of refuge for homeless women.
Here's a brief bio Nick penned for the UK Guardian newspaper's Sunday magazine blog back in '07 which describes the context around his trajectory, and a more colorful ‘home page’ from around that time which also describes his previous lives in, yes, high finance and high tech.
'Ultimately,' Nick insists, 'The inner and outer journeys are one.' Here’s a 2009 portrait describing his experience of gardening as a root mantra of the Peacemakers path. And, on the artsier side of things, an 'illuminated manuscript' shedding light on some of the more vexing personal challenges effected and required of creating Sanctuary in the midst of 21st Century realpolitik.
He is active across Facebook, and Twitter @nick_routledge.
Years in politics led Jeannie to develop a strong desire to dig into the real dirt. In 2009 she started a CSA vegetable farm in the Monmouth/Independence area. She developed a passion for heirloom tomatoes that grew into a love of biodiversity. In 2014 she took on the Queener Farm and has since been enraptured by it’s broad collection of apple varieties. Diving headfirst into caring for this crazy assortment has been a joyful adventure. Every season is an opportunity to learn and grow.
In 2015 she created the Heirloom Apple Club and has loved sharing what she learns about our apple collections with its members in weekly newsletters. This year she hopes to merge her vegetable and fruit passions by adding heirloom tomatoes and winter squash back to the farm.
Scroll down to the bottom of this page for her essay "Why I Farm."
Below are a series of links to writing by or about Jeannie. From early 2008, when she first really fell in love with farms to now, ten years later.
Essays by Jeannie
Writings by others about Jeannie and the farm
Born and raised outside Seattle, Wa on Tiger Mountain, my childhood was an odd dichotomy of computer technology and full engagement with the natural world.
At a early age, traveling miles from my home into the evergreen forests mile sinstilled a sense of the heartbeat of the world as the dance of seasons
carried on. It is there I learned a sense of wonder toward the living world –carrying still the flame of this childhood spirit today. I have worn many hats
in my life, carrying pieces which are woven into a mosaic, but the course of my life inevitably steered towards land care.
When we think of agrarian living, plants and animals quickly come to mind, but the central crux of farming is engaging with our community to foster and build
goodwill and to maintain enduring relationships. The vision is to leave our community and world in better shape before parting. The cornerstone of a
healthy sustaining agriculture goes beyond just organics but also values aworldview where landscape and biology are interwoven as one. This way of life
runs counter to the typical imbalanced shackled imposition on the landscape.Within that paradigm, too often food is grown with an empty promise – having been chemically contaminated and/or devoid of nutrition. My approach has been a well-rounded soil fertility program harnessing diverse green manures, soil biology, and targeted remineralization to offer food that truly sustains.
Helping manage the orchard and land here at the Queener farm is a blessing, something I take seriously but lightheartedly. Each day presents new exciting challenges and pulls from diverse skillsets - never a dull moment. It will be exciting to see this land continue to develop and blossom as a community gathering place. It is a delicate balance honing in on what works but also being receptive and adaptive to changing conditions, new ideas and techniques.Where possible I enjoy teaching and empowering people to gain those skills as
well. In today’s world, diversified farming practices are key to the survival of the American family farm. I am excited to help in this process here.
It is here that I’ve launched Head, Hands, Heart nursery - which will continue to blossom my vision of spreading a dizzying array of needed plant material
out into the world - quality nutritious foods, medicines, materials, and fuel plants. It has been a lifelong passion to collect, grow, propagate, select,
and distribute plant genetics from around the world. Since about 2007, I have been selecting and breeding a wide variety of species - both traditional fruits, nuts, and vegetables but also new and interesting obscure plants as well in search of an sustainable, seasonal, year-around, and interesting diet.
Some of my focuses have included perennial kale, onions, diversely shaped andcolored potatoes, high protein corn, but also many useful and obscure
perennial vegetables well suited to temperate climates. My love of cooking has lead to a focus around the flavor and nutrition of plants which hold up to rigors of organic and difficult conditions. Over the last several years, I have turned greater attention to the tree species – like the perennial fruits of
all types, as well as nut trees like chestnuts, English walnuts, black walnuts, and hickories. Traveling around collecting and preserving the most
resilient types for this bio-region.
Stay tuned in the coming years as I begin to release many new and promising plants for a better future. Now is the time to tip the scale from a scarcity
model to one of abundance. It begins with us.