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Slow Food gets the lowdown at Luscher Farm event

by: Cliff Newell, 
CSA farm director Laura Masterson, right, has a buddy and supporter in Katherine Deumling, Portland chapter president of Slow Food USA.

Slow down. You eat too fast. You've got to make that rhubarb last.

Yes, Slow Food USA swung into Lake Oswego Saturday at a place that perfectly suits the organization's philosophy - Luscher Farm.

Some 40 members of the Portland chapter of Slow Food were on hand for a tour led by CSA farm director Laura Masterson, who covered everything from beans and bugs to buckwheat.

'This farm is right at the core of what we believe,' said chapter president Katherine Deumling. 'It fits our tagline, 'Good, Clean and Fair.' It provides good quality food that tastes good and it's fair to the workforce.'

Masterson, who is becoming an increasingly skilled communicator about her farm, was delighted with the visit by the Slow Food folks.

'This group combines a lot of things I feel passionate about,' Masterson said. 'It is concerned about the environment and social justice. And these people love to eat!'

The Slow Fooders' specialty - a delicious potluck meal - came at the end of the tour. Before that they got the lowdown on operations at the farm. They even got to pull beans straight off the plant, which is about as fast as slow food gets.

'This group asks a lot of questions,' Deumling said. 'They don't mind standing around in a field for a long time.'

The Slow Fooders also found out about the farm's special challenge - continuing to exist.

Luscher Farm, in cooperation with Masterson's 47th Avenue Farm, was granted a one-year extension of its original three-year contract by the city of Lake Oswego. However, Masterson is hoping for a much longer extension, of at least three years, so the farm can become established and provide long-term benefits for the Lake Oswego community.

Providing fresh, delicious food for that community is one key aspect of Luscher Farm. Up to 600 people have been getting a big box every week of whatever vegetable goodies are in season. In addition, a half-dozen area restaurants are getting their veggies from Luscher.

'It's incredible what you can grow in a mild maritime climate,' said Masterson, who has been farming for 12 years. 'Everything grown and picked is used. That transaction happens early. Then you just give people food, which I love.'

But Masterson believes much more than fresh food is involved.

'There's a tremendous potential here for outreach and education,' she said. 'But there are special interest groups vying for the land. What I'm trying to do is bring people here and show them what we have. Not everyone understands what a resource this farm is for the community.

'There is much more potential. How can we grow more food and give more access to food and teach kids? We're in a place where we can grow so much food. How can we get to the place where we can do it?'

The city of Lake Oswego took a strikingly innovative action when it voted to set up a farm that four years ago was so close to the city limits - it's now in the city - and hired Community Supported Agriculture, under Masterson, to run it.

'What the city did was very novel,' Masterson said. 'People could sign up for tennis and swimming lessons and also buy a CSA share.'

However, those 10 acres are extremely attractive, and other interest groups would love to possess them.

The city seemed ready to ditch its farm experiment earlier this year. But farm subscribers, called Friends of Farming at Luscher Farm, rushed to show their polite but fervent support. The Lake Oswego City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Judie Hammerstad, reversed course, and the farm was saved for a year.

Now, Masterson is hoping to obtain a multi-year contract in September to continue. Then she can really start to make plans, starting with kids. Hundreds of school children have already toured Luscher Farm, and that number will swell to thousands if the farm stays put.

'I love the kids. They were some of my biggest supporters at the city council meeting,' Masterson noted.

Also on the drawing boards are hedgerow restoration, which will provide for insects ('the good guys') that help crops, fruit trees and bees.

Some changes are already on the way. Masterson has arranged to bring in 2,000-pound Belgian draft horses to handle the tillage of the fields.

'A farm like this needs constant advocacy,' Masterson said. 'Whether I stay or not - and I would love to stay - it's important that this farm continue.'

She can count Slow Food USA in her corner.

'This farm exposes to people what we are all about,' Deumling said. 'It's about maintaining biodiversity with small farms.

'It's such a treasure, and it's a good business, too. You've got to have the economic part.'