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Farm contract extended

by: Cliff Newell, 
Laura Masterson of Luscher Farm, left, has her words translated into Chinese by an interpreter at the farm’s reception for 24 planners from China on Aug. 29.

Luscher Farm, Lake Oswego's CSA working farm right in the city limits, is still in business.

The City of Lake Oswego City Council last week gave the go-ahead to Kim Gilmer, city Parks and Recreation Department director, to give a three-year contract extension to the farm.

'Yippee!' was the word that came to mind to farm director Laura Masterson, who had been in negotiations on the contract for over a year. Now Luscher Farm not only can continue to provide fresh homegrown produce to hundreds of Lake Oswego people, it can develop as an education center and a model of sustainability.

'This farm is great for the community,' Masterson said. 'It's not just about growing a few vegetables for a few people. It's for anyone in Lake Oswego.'

'This is tremendously good news,' said Kathy Keller-Jones, a member of Friends of Farming, the support group of Luscher Farm. 'There are community gardens in that area, but they're not the same as a working farm.

'Any number of things could have happened to this farm. I think it is fabulous that the city has done this.'

A year ago at this time, Masterson was ready to pack up her truck and go farm somewhere else. Other interests were seeking to use the Luscher land, and there were strong indications that the city council was going to end the experiment it had started in 2003.

'I was at the end of my rope,' Masterson said. 'I wasn't getting anywhere. So I told our supporters to get together and convince the city council to keep the farm. And they did.'

The supporters formed a new group called the Friends of Farming, and their petition to the city council in October of 2006 was the turning point in keeping the 10-acre farm as part of the CSA.

'We hadn't been contacted,' Keller-Jones said. 'The dog people, the soccer people, the neighborhood association were contacted, but the CSA was not contacted. That's when we started Friends of Farming.

'We knew it was a complicated matter for the city to decide how to use the land for all interests, and we made it clear how important it was for us. People want to see that beautiful farm, buy organic produce, and have our own kids learn what otherwise they would not learn.'

'It was the Friends of Farming who did it,' Masterson said. 'At strategic times they reminded the city council about what a great community resource the farm is.'

Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad and the city council carefully weighed their decision about the farm up to the last minute, but ultimately they unanimously opted for the three-year extension.

'Historically, that part of the farm has been under cultivation,' said City Councilor Donna Jordan. 'The gal out there (Masterson) is doing a great job. People are very pleased with the operation she is running. It's one of the few year-around CSA farms.

'That is very good in light of sustainability. People are getting their produce close to home.'

Masterson was happy to see the negotiations successfully conclude on several scores.

'This frees my time to actually do farming,' she said.

But even more important, the new contract opens up doors for the future. This includes developing an outreach and education program, which makes Keller-Jones, a school counselor, quite excited.

'Kids grow up here and don't rub shoulders with farmers like they used to,' she said. 'They don't know where their food is coming from. They need to know this so we can build a sustainable world.'

Masterson and the Friends also want to develop a sustainability plan that will mirror that of the city.

'I would like to see the CSA contribute to the sustainability of this community,' Masterson said.

Of course, the farm's new contract came as great news to the over 600 people (plus several restaurants) who get their vegetables there. There's a long waiting list ready to join the veggie train. But being the sustainability-minded person that she is, Masterson says she will be cautious about expanding too much.

'I've got to strike a balance between maximum production and being good to the land,' she said.