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Soil test indicates farming changes at Luscher Farm

Farming operations at Luscher Farm could be seeing a big change under the proposed Luscher Area Master Plan.

This is because the soil quality in the new farming area will have a major difference, according to a recent soil test by the Natural Re-sources Conservation Service, from the area cultivated for the past seven years by 47th Avenue Farm.

While the new LAMP adds 5 acres to the Luscher farming operation, it shifts most of the current operation to the adjacent Firlane property. The NRCS test reports the Firlane land has steeper slopes and is much more susceptible to erosion, making the farm less suitable for sustainable farming and less profitable, at least in the short run.

In place of the current farmland, LAMP now calls for the installation of one or two artificial turf soccer fields.

'I think the report is fairly clear,' said Laura Masterson, owner of 47th Avenue Farm. 'It would be very challenging to grow the type of vegetables we do now.'

The NRCS test, which was done by USDA water quality specialist Lee Ko, stated that the Firlane property, with its combination of tillage and slope, increases the hazard for erosion and polluted runoff.

The report said: 'It would likely take five years or more to raise the soil fertility and reduce the weeds on Firlane to a comparable level as Luscher Farm.'

However, there is the possibility of changing the nature of Luscher's farming operation, which is based on Community Service Agriculture.

Masterson noted, 'It could be used for perennials, orchards or pasture for animals.'

While the potential is there, the NRCS test reported the expense of establishing new kinds of crops would be large, especially for establishing blueberries or an orchard.

'We need to ask the community what types of urban agriculture they would like to see,' said Ryan Stee, park projects manager for the city of Lake Oswego. 'Is it a cultural, rural look or is it food production - or both? We are still working on many details that will take time to put together.'

A key question in the coming months, before the final version of LAMP, is what is 'best' for Luscher Farm.

The NRCS report gives high marks for maintaining Luscher Farm with the full complement of community gardens and existing CSA acreage.

Masterson definitely agrees with that option. Her operation now provides sustainable produce for 75 families and 500 people year-around. But she says fresh vegetables are not the only advantage offered by Luscher Farm.

'One benefit is food. The other is giving education about agriculture to kids,' Masterson said. 'The farm is now a great complement to existing programs with animals and history.

'If the community wants farming at Luscher Farm, it will have the most options if we use the best farmland.'

As the soil test report said, Luscher is 'a rare and thriving example' of urban farming.