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Luscher on the brink of change

A group of Luscher Farm lovers is urging Lake Oswego officials to rethink plans to end the Community Supported Agriculture program there and are asking the city to include its users in talks about a redesign of the farm.

The Friends of Farming at Luscher Farm includes about 15 active members and is supported by families who eat through the CSA - about 200 by the operator's estimates, located in both West Linn and Lake Oswego.

The Friends of Farming recently launched a campaign to raise awareness about the CSA and about Lake Oswego's plan to shift agricultural land to other uses at the 90-acre Luscher Farm complex.

The CSA occupies 10 acres at Luscher Farm along Rosemont Road. The program grows more than 200 varieties of organic vegetables and makes crops available to individuals or families who purchase shares.

Since its launch at Luscher Farm three years ago, the CSA has steadily expanded and recently received a national award for City Livability by supplying vegetables to families.

But the city of Lake Oswego plans to end the CSA in 2007 to make room for other, non-agricultural uses at Luscher Farm. Lake Oswego Parks Director Kim Gilmer said a lack of available land for other projects is prompting the change.

'When we originally set it up, it was a temporary use,' Gilmer said.

She said plans for the farm, approved after a lengthy period of citizen input, have called for athletic fields since 1997. Fields also have been chased out of neighborhoods, where neighbors have complained about potential conflicts over parking, lights and noise.

During a redesign of Luscher Farm this summer, planners were directed to include at least one field and a dog park and to look at future field use at the farm. A favored plan set to debut before the Lake Oswego city council Oct. 3 calls for the fields and a dog park, plus community gardens, but takes out the sharecropping component now met by the CSA.

'The hope is that once we present it to the council we'll have direction on where we can go with the plan,' said Gilmer.

Meanwhile, CSA supporters are working to delay the city council's decision on the plan. Planners who crafted the plan held meetings with stakeholders, including dog park supporters, sports advocates and the Palisades Neighborhood Association Board. CSA supporters were not included in the mix, however, because the CSA was meant to be temporary and because the master plan never called for farmland, Gilmer said.

Dog park supporters, by contrast, have been included in discussions, though the master plan did not include a dog park and that use was also supposed to be temporary.

Carol Yamada, a CSA advocate, said the city's decision to include dog park supporters but not farming interests has not escaped the attention of farm supporters.

'Definitely that's been brought up,' she said.

Yamada said the Friends of Farming are trying to draw attention to the issue through talks with city officials, public meetings, a letter-writing campaign and a Web site at www.luscherfarm.org.

'What we're hoping is that farming is always something that happens at Luscher Farm, not just community gardens,' she said. 'It's a really precious open space and as time goes by, there's going to be less and less… In 25 years there could still be a farm there.'

Luscher Farm gardeners already find it a refuge. Alisa Mallinger spends afternoons in the community gardens at Luscher with her two sons, Alec, 2, and Aaron, 4.

'It's a nice thing to come to in the afternoon when we're just hanging out and they'll eat vegetables they won't eat at the table off the vine. It's a great way to introduce them to vegetables,' Mallinger said.

While the community gardens aren't affected by plans to end the CSA, Mallinger said the loss of the program would change the rural character of Luscher Farm and affect those who come there for its tranquil setting.

'I'd be incredibly sad,' she said, 'if the CSA were removed. This is a unique set up and I don't know any other place like this. If there's not a need for it, I understand, but if there is a need for that CSA and it's supported economically, it seems to me that it should be there.'

The Friends of Farming say they understand the demands Luscher Farm must meet: locals want added fields, a dog park and community agriculture.

But they believe careful planning at Luscher Farm can do it all if redesign plans include everyone. They plan to attend Tuesday night's city council meeting to ask for a closer look at those redesign plans and more input into the process.