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Urban farmers make the most of their plot of land

Mel and Marie Faria grow everything from artichokes to zucchini


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - SAVORING THE SIGHTS, TASTES AND SMELLS -- Mel and Marie Faria spend a lot of time outside in the summer in their beautiful back yard.There is a little utopia in King City - a magical garden that stuns passers-by from any angle or direction.

When Mel and Marie Faria moved to King Richard in King City four years ago into a home that borders on Fischer Road, they had their work cut out for them. The back yard was filled with blackberries, which Mel painstakingly removed.

"There was nothing here - it was stripped bare," said Mel, who went on to create lush flower and vegetable gardens. However, he credits Marie for her contributions by saying, "She's got her own little patch - she tends the roses and annuals and some of the vegetables - we've sure been enjoying the beets."

The couple, who are originally from Central California, first moved to Tigard; Marie was a registered nurse, and Mel was "in the meat business for 36 years."

They have always been big on organic gardening, and Mel recalled when Marie was working, she would take five gallons of artichokes to the hospital that the staff would gobble up.

"Then we moved to Brookings," Mel said. "She didn't like it there. It's a man's paradise, but when you get sick, you have to drive to Medford."

The Farias, who have been married for 51 years and have a daughter and a son, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, next settled in Woodburn before finally moving to King City.

Once the land was cleared, Mel started planting in earnest. Outside the fence along Fischer Road grow Asian cucumbers, olives and quince. "We make a lot of quince jam," Mel said. "We don't get tired of it."

He also has a "plumcot" tree (half plum and half apricot), an Italian plum tree ("I had a few acres in California"), walnuts and grape vines that are on their third year. Mel's secret to fast-growing and healthy trees is first digging a big hole and then adding a lot of manure.

Also along Fischer Road are "Straight 8s" cucumbers and five stages of corn. "I planted them two weeks apart," Mel said. "When I'm working outside the fence, people driving on Fischer Road will stop to talk to me, and I say, 'Please don't stop.' But they stop anyway, and cars line up behind them.

"People say, 'I appreciate what you do.'"

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - BOUNTY OF THE EARTH -- Mel and Marie Faria enjoy the fruits of their labor, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and cooking with produce from their garden every day; their dog Zoe enjoys tagging along. One of Mel's watering tricks is using his cultivator to create long, narrow depressions in the soil between the plants for water to flow once a week.

"The tomatoes and onions are doing really well," said Mel, adding that he has to stay busy on his urban farm "because Marie loves to bake - she makes pies and cakes, and I would weigh 200 pounds if I didn't do this. And I enjoy it."

In fact, Mel produces so much bounty that the neighbors benefit from his labor of love too. "I'll put cucumbers in a box out in front with a 'free' sign, and within an hour or two they'll be gone," he said. "I think they call each other."

Marie explained, "Every day we eat from the garden."

Mel has two fig trees, and one is special.

Pointing to one inside the fence, Mel said, "I planted this fig tree eight years ago on my daughter's ranch, and two years ago, when they were selling the place, I dug it up and brought it here. I pruned it so I never need a ladder to get the figs."

In addition, Mel has a persimmon tree and pear trees, and the garden attracts lots of birds.

"We love to watch the hummingbirds," Mel said.

There also is beautiful oleander growing and sunflowers "that are volunteers from the bird seed," Marie said.

And they both dote on their black toy poodle Zoe, who follows them everywhere and likes to be carried around a lot.

In his spare time, Mel also helps his neighbors on either side with their back yards and even works on the next one over, and he doesn't slow down in the wintertime.

"I'm one of only two men on the block so I help the ladies with projects like broken hot water heaters, plugged sinks and light fixtures that don't work," he said.

A neighbor had the right idea when she said that the town's name really should be Queen City because the population is two-thirds women.