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East County farmers' markets yield crop of community benefits

AMELISA SALVADOR  - Sequoia and America Easley say hello to their baby chickens at the Easley family's Sandy-based farm.Sixteen miles southeast of Gresham, down Phelps Road in Sandy, is a farm called Slice of Heaven.

Though at 17 acres, the farm can hardly be described as a slice. But heaven? Maybe.

Owned by Brandon and Marieta Easley, recent transplants to Sandy from Louisiana, they plan to build their farm to be able to feed their own family as well as more than 200 others in the coming years.

The farm will be just one of the new vendors at the Gresham Farmers’ Market this year, which also has a new manager, Gresham resident Amelia Salvador. As part of her rounds to new vendors she will conduct when the market season starts in May, Salvador visited Slice of Heaven on Wednesday, March 25.

The Easley’s farm, she noted, is a perfect example of how farmers’ markets benefit Gresham residents and the local economy.

“We can help support their livelihood,” Salvador said, as she toured the Easley’s greenhouse, where herbs such as cilantro and parsley sprouted from the ground.

The Gresham Farmers’ Market is one of three in the city that residents can visit to find fresh produce this year.

Each market — The Gresham Farmers’ Market, the Gresham Saturday Market and the new Rockwood Farmers’ Market — has something slightly different to offer.

Turning 29 this year, the Gresham Farmers’ market is the oldest of the three and also has the biggest emphasis on farms and farmers. This year, the market will feature local businesses such as The Hoppy Brewer, which will sell beer in growler jugs, and Jazzy Bagels, which will sell bread products.

“The farmers’ market is the central hub of a community,” Salvador said. “We’re a service to the farms and a service to the community members by providing a place for them to obtain fresh produce.”

The Gresham Saturday Market brings in a mix of farm produce and handmade arts and crafts.

“We’re a farmers’ market, but we don’t try to put a cap on artists or crafts or unique items,” said Gary Dillon, manager of the Gresham Saturday Market. “We’re really trying to be innovative.”

The Rockwood Farmers’ Market, sponsored by the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, will have later hours than the Gresham markets and focus on providing residents access to affordable produce.

Following a successful month-long trial in October, EMO decided to expand the Rockwood Farmers’ Market for the length of the market season.

“The market is intended to reflect the community and be as accessible as possible, so we’re trying to find a balance between affordability and attractiveness to vendors as well as creating a new space for entrepreneurs from the community,” said Jenny Holmes, EMO’s environmental ministries director. “We’re creating opportunity as well as supporting local farms.”

It’s exactly this sentiment that sparked Brandon Easley’s interest in farming in New Orleans, where he said it was difficult to find fresh produce.

“We wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said.

A self-described idealist and a self-taught farmer, Brandon and Marieta do all of the work on their farm while wrangling their three children — 4-year-old America, 2-year-old Sequoia, and 10-month-old Phoenix — and more than six cats.

In their start-up year, the Easleys said their focus will be on the quality, not the quantity, of their crop. They’re hoping to grow food that will be healthy for local families and the economy while inspiring others who wonder if a small, sustainable farm can be profitable.

“I wouldn’t do anything else with my life,” Brandon Easley said. “This is revolutionary to me.”

Here are the three markets’ locations and hours of operation:

n The Gresham Farmers’ Market, Northwest Miller Avenue between Second and Third Streets, is open 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, from Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 10, until the end of October.

n The Gresham Saturday Market, 440 N.W. Burnside Rd., is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays from April 18 to Sept. 26.

n The Rockwood Farmers’ Market, S.E. 187th Ave. and Stark Street, will be open from 3-7 p.m. Fridays, from May 15 to Oct. 30.

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