About JEAN’s Urban Forest Farm

Where Learn­ing Takes Root

The story of JEAN’s Urban For­est Farm reflects the his­tory of agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment along the banks of John­son Creek in south­east Port­land.  As the city grew, the low­land and flood­plain areas were logged for the use in con­struc­tion, and farms replaced the forests that had con­verged at the creek. Farm­ers ini­tially encour­aged lim­ited flood­ing of the creek in order to enrich their top soil with silt eroded from upland por­tions of the water­shed. Over time, many farms along John­son Creek have, in turn, dis­ap­peared from the reaches of the creek, to be replaced by res­i­dences and com­mer­cial property.

Tide­man and Olavia John­son immi­grated from Nor­way and moved west in the 1870‘s. They bought eighty acres that included the prop­erty that is now JEAN’s Farm in 1880, because their desire to recon­nect with the land. Dur­ing and after World War II, neigh­bors cre­ated vic­tory gar­dens on the prop­erty. Their crops included grapes and berries. Later, the land was sold and used as  a horse pasture.

In the late 1970’s, Walt John­son, a grand­son of Tide­man, pur­chased it and let it go fal­low. Although it was back under fam­ily own­er­ship, the land quickly turned into a bram­ble of black­ber­ries. It stayed that way until the 1993, when Urban Bounty, under Marc Boucher-Colbert, leased, cleared and used the land to grow pro­duce for one of the first community-supported agri­cul­ture enter­prises in Port­land. Laura Mas­ter­son later assumed the lease and ran her own CSA on the site as exten­sion of 47th Street Farm.

Steve John­son, a descen­dent and the cur­rent owner of the farm prop­erty, has ded­i­cated a great deal of his life both to the stew­ard­ship of the fam­ily prop­erty and the John­son Creek water­shed. He has suc­cess­fully helped to pro­tect a mile of the creek and 100 acres of urban wilder­ness in this small canyon. Steve is a pro­fes­sor of urban plan­ning, and, over the years of his stew­ard­ship, has come to rec­og­nize that in order to care for this place long-term and pre­serve it within urban bound­aries, com­mu­nity invest­ment is essential.

As part of this invest­ment, Steve wanted the prop­erty to con­tinue to be used for local food pro­duc­tion while offer­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for orga­ni­za­tions to use the land for  edu­ca­tional pur­poses. In 2004, Dilafruz Williams, a fel­low pro­fes­sor at Port­land State Uni­ver­sity and mem­ber of the Port­land School Board, cre­ated a unique part­ner­ship between PSU, Port­land Pub­lic Schools and the John­son fam­ily, which led to the cre­ation of an edu­ca­tional pro­gram that would pro­moted a place-based model of envi­ron­men­tal, cul­tural and agri­cul­tural learn­ing on the John­son property.

Dilafruz’s pro­posal emerged out of her close friend­ship with Steve’s mother, Jean John­son. When Jean died in 2003, it was agreed that the mem­ory of Jean’s spirit should be asso­ci­ated with this ven­ture. Hence the name, JEAN’s Farm, or the John­son Envi­ron­men­tal And Nutri­tion Farm.

Accord­ing to Steve, there have been over 6000 vis­i­tors to the prop­erty from over 30 coun­tries and every state of the USA over the years. That num­ber doesn’t include the hun­dreds of stu­dents who have learned first-hand about the local envi­ron­ment and agri­cul­ture. Sun­ny­side and Lewis Schools began field trips to the farm site in 2005. Sun­ny­side con­tin­ues them to this day.

 As its more recent name implies, JEAN’s Urban For­est Farm is not just a place where stu­dents come to learn about farm­ing. They also go there to observe how agri­cul­ture can be sus­tain­ably prac­ticed within a healthy for­est ecosys­tem. Places like JEAN’s Farm have much to teach us about our rela­tion­ship to the land — if we take the time to slow down, extend our senses, get our hands dirty and watch the sea­sons work their magic.

The JEAN’s Farm Team 2012