Climate Action & Resilience

Climate change is here. There's no avoiding it anymore. We must still do all we can to reduce our carbon footprint, but we must also prepare to live with the ongoing impacts of climate change over the course of our lives and for future generations.

BOLD Climate Action

  • Prepare for Climate Change

  • Walkable, Bikable  Portland

  • Portland Green New Deal

  • Focus on Food Resilience

Prepare for Climate Change and energy independence

We must redouble our work to address climate change, and we must get real about preparing for the unfolding impacts of climate change. There are still many steps we can take. One vital step in addressing the potential impacts of climate change is to start increasing our local food resilience (more on that below). The cost of inaction is too high. Now is the time for bold action.

 

Our polar ice caps are melting and the world is literally on fire (in the Amazon last summer, in Australia now, and every year up and down our beautiful west coast)! Expanses of tundra that have been under ice for thousands of years are becoming bogs and releasing a vast amount of methane. Our coastlines are rising. Warm currents in our oceans are killings sea life that traditionally sustains birds, which are now also having a mass die-off. Our ocean is becoming so acidic, crab shells are losing their hardness. Over a billion creatures died in the Australian fires, and thousands of creatures are at risk of extinction. Everything we do must include evaluation through the lens of how it impacts our ecological resilience. And even risk factors for epidemics and pandemics are increased by climate change.

 

Cities more than anywhere else buffer us from experiencing nature, and it's easy to forget how our collective behavior impacts the planet. Cities are the source, or intended destination, for most of the products that end up filling our landfills and polluting our planet. If we're going to save this planet for human habitation, it's going to happen in the cities, because that's where most of us live. We might bemoan the impact of cows or the loss of trees in the Amazon, but it's we in the cities that are using most of the raw materials and eating most of the hamburgers. We need to start making radically different choices, and that starts in the places we live. 

 

Walkable, Bikable Portland

In addition to things the city is already doing, such as creating bioswales throughout the city, let's plant more green roofs, expand green space, especially in areas traditionally underserved by parks, create car-free areas, encourage biker ridership with car-free bike streets, and continue to support infill for walkable neighborhoods where people love to live. Let's pursue multi-modal transportation solutions and assure we have walkable communities, bikeable quadrants, and free mass transit across the city. 

Focus on Food Resilience

While many people look out ten years and express concern about traffic congestion, I think about food. The current pandemic may help wake us up to the reality of potential global crisis, not just the potential for more viral events down the road, or the increasing impact of mass migrations resulting from ecological distress and failing governments, but also the real possibility that global food systems could start to fail and food prices increase exponentially. In Coronavirus pandemic 'will cause famine of biblical proportions', a writer for Guardian newspaper describes some of the magnitude of what the world faces. The stark line of cars recently waiting to get to a food pantry in South Florida gives another look.

 

The need for enhancing our food system(s) resilience becomes clearer the longer the pandemic persists. There is no one thing we can do; there is an entire system to feed us which needs to function smoothly, especially when stressed. From the seed producer, to the hands that prepare the soil to plant the seed to those who tend it then harvest it, clean and store it, transport it to market to afford it to cook and eat it and to clean up the scraps, there are many moving parts. As we are learning in the pandemic, our food system is only as strong as its weakest link: witness crops being destroyed due to a lack of harvesters or markets.

 

Our situation feels increasingly urgent as we consider how in addition to political chaos, climate change, forest fires, flooding, drought, desertification, peak oil, increased transportation costs, the failed policies of big agriculture's use of synthetic fertilizers and mono-cropping have depleted our soil and will increasingly impact the availability and pricing of our most precious commodities: FOOD and WATER.

 

In 2008, in collaboration with leadership of local farmers market organizations, the City of Portland commissioned a study to address the future for Portland’s markets. Commissioner Jeff Cogan was instrumental in convening the Multnomah Food Initiative which led to the formation of the Multnomah Action Plan which was strongly supported by Commissioner Nick Fish. The Portland Multnomah Food Policy Council report in 2011 did a thorough job in describing the urban agriculture landscape. In the eulogy for Commissioner Fish on PDX Community Garden Facebook page I found a concise description of how our urban agriculture has evolved.

 

As the Commissioner in Charge of Parks, in 2009 <Fish> convened a process, led by Oregon Solutions, to identify ways to increase community garden opportunities in Portland. As a result of this work, non-profits Grow Portland and Outgrowing Hunger were formed and began building and operating community gardens. Portland Parks & Recreation and Portland Public Schools (Oregon) strengthened their partnership and built four new community gardens on school property. Zenger Farm formalized their relationship with Bureau of Environmental Services to manage city-owned property as part of their educational hub for agriculture, nutrition and wetland habitat preservation education. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability updated the Urban Food Zoning Code in 2013.

 

Food policy and zoning in Portland has rightly focused on food access and resources to improve the availability and affordability of fresh, healthy, locally produced food. These policies and projects have worked to promote community resiliency, equity, and environmental, economic, and personal health. I feel it is time to examine the food policies and determine what should be strengthened to meet the demands of the future.

 

We must identify and equitably modify parts of our local food systems to enhance food availability and justice, making them as deeply resilient as quickly as possible. This is by no means a complete list. A few ideas:

  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great way for consumers to engage with farmers to ensure there is a supply to meet the demand. Portland is doing a good job promoting CSAs

  • Employ Urban Agriculture by converting residential lawns to Earth Gardens to allow each family to grow more of their food with enough to share, such as the Farm My Yard movement. 

  • Promote cooking as a hobby so that we incorporate growing food with cooking food. Cooking is a great hobby in the confines of one’s kitchen.

  • Shop local: A current list of farmers markets in the region is maintained on the city website.

 

I love the gardens around town. Since 1975, Portland Community Gardens has provided gardening opportunities for the physical and social benefit of the people and neighborhoods of Portland. The city manages the 57 community gardens located throughout the city, which are developed and operated by PP&R staff with a Grow Portland volunteer leadership team that assists in day-to-day activities.

 

The community garden operating budget comes from 20% program fees ($132,893 in 2019) & donations, and 80% general fund for a total budget for of $660K with $106K for supplies. Since the operating budget does not cover costs to build new gardens, that money comes from a combination of grants and City funds allocated to capital projects (such as system development charges). On average, it costs $75,000 to build a new 20,000 sf community garden. (See all the robust and wide-reaching Parks, Recreation, & Cultural Services. FY 2019‐20 Budget.) This relatively nominal amount of money creates a tremendous amount of nutritious benefit!)

 

There are so many people wanting to garden that garden space is in short supply. Competition for land is tough as Laura Niemi, Portland Community Garden Program Coordinator describes in her interview in Producer Grower magazine, “We have a ton of people on the waiting list, but we don't have enough garden plots and garden locations to meet the demand,” Niemi says. “And being able to find land to do that is especially challenging in Portland because we've experienced a lot of growth here, so we're competing with for-profit housing and other uses for open space.”

 

“People come together through their shared love of gardening, but they may have different political beliefs, they may have different income levels, they may have different races or ethnicities, but they all come together in this space and they learn from each other and build relationships. I think that's really important to the community and to the city.”

 

A wonderful example of the potential resilience of urban agriculture.

One of our major regional resources is Oregon State University. Based in Corvallis, OSU is our Land Grant University which runs Cooperative Extension Service Experimental Stations around the state. Since 1914, the Cooperative Extension Service “extends” their research and crop information, as well as nutrition and a wealth of information for better live. All at low to no cost to our communities. Oregon was the first state to offer the Extension Service 4-H program to young people in a major metropolitan area. The Portland 4-H group began the first WWI Victory Gardens in 1918 and 1919. We need to build on our heritage and begin to again think of ourselves as gaining victory over adversity. Our ancestors worked hard for what we have available today and I want to conserve that.

 

The Extension Service sponsors the Master Gardener program which trains people in proven gardening techniques. The MG curriculum is the equivalent of a college-level horticulture course focused on sustainable gardening. Becoming a Master Gardener requires each person pay back for the training by donating to the community a significant amount of their time each year in sharing information and supporting community gardening. They offer a free introduction to the program. As the pandemic has grown, so has participation in their free on-line Vegetable Gardening series with over 17,000 people getting involved this year! Then the Master Food Preservers teach how to store the extra food safely. Affordability is partially addressed through Federal SNAP program and Extension offers outreach education for it.

 

Extension also runs the incredible Food Innovation Center on Naito Pkwy, providing assistance to entrepreneurs creating all manner of food products. Its new downtown Portland offices and training center are located across from Pioneer Courthouse Square in the old Meier & Frank (or Macy’s) building.

 

When budget cuts led Extension to eliminate the Master Recycler program, the City of Portland stepped up to continue sponsoring the program, supported by Clackamas CountyWashington CountyMetro, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Recycling Advocates. Their services include not just recycling but also composting, sustainable consumption and production, fixing and reuse, the sharing community, toxics reduction, green building, and equity. 

 

This is the spirit of Portland I want to promote. Working as a region – our food shed - we have the resources to enhance our embrace of urban and rural agriculture. Fellow partners in this effort:

  • The Oregon Food Bank is a huge ally in the struggle for food and health. All the associated food pantries, faith and independent food pantries are critical. Their FEAST program brings producers and consumers in geographic regions together into Food Webs. The Dairy Creek Community Food Web is active today because of the expert leadership of the OFB. I would like to see all of Portland in a series of food webs!

  • We need to support Senior Centers and the Meals On Wheels People making sure fewer seniors have food.

  • I really like the services provided by FoodPantries.org, a directory of Food Banks, Soup Kitchens, and non-profit organizations committed to fighting hunger in Oregon.

  • And all of the producers and merchants who keep us fed.

 

While the land use laws in Oregon have protected farmland from asphalt and houses, they have done virtually nothing to protect the fertility and vitality of the soil itself. Increasing soil health through educating the citizenry is up to local municipalities and universities to contribute to the effort. With our involved city and county governments, our heart-based non-profit and charitable groups, our amazing OSU Extension Service and you, we can forge a future free of hunger for all.

 

We need to prioritize food education and food production, expand community gardens and encourage fewer lawns for greater sustainability and community resilience by working together, Rural and Urban, to grow food everywhere, thereby reducing our reliance on outside global food systems and reducing the carbon costs of transporting food long distances.

 

Credit: Bruce Bartlett provided extensive research and writing for this issue page.

Climate Action & Resilience

Real solutions for today's challenges

  I believe in what Portland can be.

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