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August 12th, 2009 Caitlin Mccarthy | Q & A
 

Marie Richie And Kat Jensen

Two urban farmers help to make a barter economy a reality.

     
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URBAN COWGIRLS: Hawthorne Urban Farmers Market founders Marie Richie (left) and Kat Jensen.
IMAGE: Mike Perrault

Farmers markets throughout the metro area—from PSU to Hillsboro to Milwaukie—may tout local produce, but how many can trace their green beans to the corner of Southeast 33rd Avenue and Division Street? The Hawthorne Urban Farmers Market, which opened July 5, specializes in “ultra-local,” fresh-cut produce, most of it grown within the bounds of Southeast Portland by anyone from full-time farmers to backyard gardeners. The HUFM is relaxed to the max: there are no table fees or board of directors or even a market manager; vending sites are first-come, first-served, and it’s open a leisurely 1 to 6 pm on Sundays. Not only that, but it supports a barter system. Co-founders Marie Richie and Kat Jensen—who also run Sellwood Garden Club, which sells urban farm produce to local restaurants and helps locals turn their front lawns into “micro-farms”—explain why trading the ultra-local way is the only way.

WW: Define “ultra-local.”

Kat Jensen: Marie’s and my little empire [Sellwood Garden Club] is about a 5-mile radius. That includes everything we buy for the farm—from fertilizer and concentrate—to the bulk of our farms, and all of the restaurants we sell to [except Tanuki in Northwest]. “Local produce” is the big push to try to eat within 100 miles, but ours is 5 miles.

What’s special about HUFM?

Marie Richie: There are no fees to sell. If you’re vending at another farmers market, they’re going to have you fill out six pages of questionnaire about this, that and the other thing—a long laundry list of rules. It’s been my observation that everyone we’re dealing with is already practicing organic methods, sustainable practices; I don’t feel the need to get documentation from anyone, I think their word is enough.

Jensen: I think it’s starting to backfire on some of the other farmers markets. There’s a point where structure becomes an obstruction. One vendor that comes to our market every couple of weeks is involved with several other markets, and with those you have to commit that you’re going to be there every week... He had to put in a personal day to come one week to check out ours, like checking in with your boss.

Richie: Initially, Common Grounds, who closed recently, owned the lot [HUFM is in], and we were just taking a collection between all of the vendors and giving them a basket of stuff.

Jensen: We were paying a fee, but it was back to a barter system. It’s also what we’ve done with the musicians who come to the market.

Richie: I don’t think this model would work well if it was the size of the Beaverton Market; it is designed to be small, for Sunnyside and Richmond. I don’t think anyone drives to our market. I think most people walk or ride their bikes, and that was pretty much the point.

So…is this legal?

Richie: It’s legal, yeah. It also allows us to get around certain regulations…. You can’t legally sell prepared foods, but if there’s no money changing hands and it’s just between two people, then there are no regulations about that.

Jensen: Like this can of cherries—[the customer] wouldn’t be able to sell this, but I’ll trade him a head of broccoli for it. [But it’s] strictly on a per-person basis; some of the people vending at the market may not be open to barter.

Richie: Though I think everyone so far has been. It kind of depends on what you have and what they want; that’s just the nature of barter. It’s funny, people seem to want to spend money, like they don’t feel it’s a legitimate transaction unless there are greenbacks involved.

What’s the best thing you’ve bartered for?

Richie: Supposedly someone’s going to bring me an angel food cake next week, a baker. Some gal came by with some weird canned goods that neither of us had any use for.

What tops your bartering wish list?

Richie: Someone to give me a massage…bring your chair and just rub me. Beer’s pretty good. Labor assistance would be great, extra garden tools, extra pots, stuff like that. We also trade amongst ourselves. I got a shampoo bar for some lavender the other day.

What are some of your weirdest crops?

Richie: We turned a lot of people on to mizuna this year…. I’ve never seen it in a grocery store. Jensen: [It’s] a really mild mustard green. [And] celtuce was so weird none of the other farmers even knew what it was.

What is celtuce?

Richie: Celtuce is a lettuce that is grown for its stem.... Inside it has texture like a cucumber.

Jensen: When we were trying to get word out about the market, one of Marie’s Pied Piper experiments was to walk up and down Hawthorne with chalk, writing on the sidewalks, and one of her ploys was to write, “What is celtuce?” We gave out a lot of samples.

Richie: The chalk paid off. I did some Twitter stuff earlier and that didn’t pay off, but the chalk worked.

Jensen: The chalk brought instant gratification.


BARTER OR BUY: The Hawthorne Urban Farmers Market sets up at Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and 43rd Avenue (in the Hawthorne Auto Clinic lot) 1-6 pm every Sunday.
 
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