A Pride Bounty at The Side Yard Farm
A Pride Bounty at The Side Yard Farm
Meet the Farmer
Meet Stacey Givens, farmer, chef and owner of The Farmhouse and Side Yard Kitchen located in Portland, Oregon. Stacey grew up in Southern California as the youngest child in a large Greek family and from an early age was immersed in a deep food culture. Her mother and Yiayia taught her to grow, forage, and store food as Greek women had done for generations before.
Stacey started working in the food industry at the age of 15 in kitchens in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland. She found a home and a community in Portland, with her Seed-to-Plate philosophy first sprouting while working in the rooftop garden of a local restaurant.
Driven by a deeper connection to her food and her desire to create a community-centered space, she began farming a small, one-acre plot of land in the Cully neighborhood of northeast Portland in 2009 and developed its Seed-to-Plate concept into a full-scale restaurant business.
Today, the farm averages over 10,000 visitors each season for workshops, farm events, dinners and brunches, bereavement groups, farm tours, BIPOC & Queer Collaborative Farmers Markets, and more.
Side Yard feeds over 15,000 people a year through restaurants, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, donations, catering and agricultural events.
With help from the NRCS under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Givens installed a 20ft by 45ft high tunnel on its property in 2015, extending its growing season and increasing local supply for respond to the request.
In 2020, Stacey was able to purchase the land directly through a USDA loan for women farmers so that she can preserve the land for future farmers. Over the years, Stacey has been inspired by the community around The Side Yard Farm and continues to grow the Seed-to-Plate restaurant business, starting with the seed and ending with the seed, in the field, the kitchen and all spaces in between. .
From the outset, Side Yard Farm’s vision was to create a space centered around safe and inclusive food for everyone, from all walks of life. Stacey wanted to create a safe space for people to go out and learn about agriculture, especially for the queer and BIPOC community, and she did just that.
Stacey not only provides a safe space for the queer community to attend various farming events and happenings, but also hires many farmers from the queer community to support farming operations.
“We want to work where it feels good and where you feel accepted,” says Stacey. She feels lucky to be located in the middle of town, where she is easily accessible to people from across the community.
Over years of working experience in the industry, Stacey has become very skilled in the restaurant business. This helped her develop the know-how and relationships needed to serve the restaurants with local produce and culinary herbs from the farm, a key part of the operation from the start.
Being able to anticipate the needs and specialized cultures desired by local chefs was a trait that initially helped her succeed. However, there was more to the vision that has been achieved in recent years by navigating through unforeseen challenges.
With Rain comes from rainbows
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt by countless growers nationwide; Side Yard Farm was no exception. Various forms of adversity have helped Stacey grow and evolve the farm.
“Honestly, for a while, I didn’t knoww if we were going to make it,” Stacey recalled. In 2020, Stacey was forced to take out an emergency small business loan and today she’s candid about the challenges of bouncing back. Stacey notes that the restaurant industry is still in repair and small local businesses still need the continued support of the community.
The Side Yard Farm has had to pivot and adapt to a new mode of operation since 2020. The farm has had to quickly transition from “restaurant farmers” to “CSA farmers” during the pandemic.
Stacey says the transition has opened different new doors for the farm. Side Yard Farm has now run a CSA program for two years and currently has 65 CSA members, which is a lot for the sub-acre urban farm to support.
“It all comes down to food. It’s a very complete circle around food. Whatever we do here — bereavement group, seed-to-plate dinners, farmers markets — it’s all about food,” Stacey says.
The Side Yard Farm still works with a handful of restaurants, maintains the catering and events business, and participates in a food donation program where anything extra is donated to a few local organizations.
The change has resulted in a less structured and less formal approach to agricultural events and created the opportunity to receive the added benefit of financial inclusiveness. The Side Yard Farm is still able to meet the needs of the community, but with a change in service delivery they have been able to lower the price and intend to continue these efforts, remaining true to their mission of inclusiveness and accessibility.
Another Side Yard evolution is seen in the BIPOC & Queer Collaborative Summer Farmers Markets. For Stacey, being able to offer her farm space for free to BIPOC and members of the queer community is important to staying true to her mission. Farmers Markets are a collaborative effort that brings the BIPOC community together and prioritizes community over competition.
During the pandemic, Stacey also bought a few teardrop trailers and developed a farm-to-camp experience. People can rent the trailers and add packets of farm-fresh food to eat as they explore the great outdoors.
These new facets of the farm have also helped Stacey balance and restructure time for her personal life as well; 80-hour work weeks are simply not sustainable.
Stacey says the new pace and new approach has helped her shift her priorities in her personal life.
“You can still have that dream and want that family and that life,” she said, referring to a desired work-life balance that came to fruition for her.
Stacey is particularly proud of two things specific to the farm. The first is to create an inclusive space; a safe space without judgment creating a family community like a village. This is evident in all farm initiatives.
The other is a bereavement group that started 11 years ago when she lost her father. The group gives people a safe space to talk and connect with others about their grief. People bring their deceased loved one’s favorite foods and feel a connection to people and food together in a safe place. Bereavement group dinners are casual; no one has to share if they don’t want to. Just showing up and being there is important enough to know they are not alone in their pain.
“There’s something about breaking bread with people that makes it easier,” Stacey says.
This is just one more example of how the mission of the farm shines through. Stacey is a master at building and fostering community resilience by providing a safe and inclusive space for all identities, while cultivating a love for local agriculture and food.
Working with NRCS Oregon
Over the years, Stacey has worked with NRCS Oregon District Ecologist Kim Galland to connect her with NRCS and other local resources, grants and funding opportunities.
“It was really good to be taken care of of,” Stacey says of her work with Kim.
Stacey’s most recent contract with the NRCS was under the Conservation Stewardship Program, working on a water conservation program, nutrition program, and native pollinator habitat plantings. The CSP contract ended last year and at this point in her farming journey, Stacey has gone through all the NRCS programs available to her for the current ownership.
“Thank you for keeping us going all these years, with the high tunnels and with all the other programs. It was amazing to work with the NRCS,” she says.
Stacey learned about NRCS through a farmer friend when she was just starting out, wanting to extend her growing season, and recommends others contact NRCS to see what resources are available to them in their area.
“I think a lot of urban farmers don’t think about government funding, because we’re on such a small scale,” Stacey says. “They may not be thinking about organizations that could help us. I know not, until a big farmer told me about NRCS. I urge other farmers to turn to NRCS for help with soil management, irrigation, high tunnels, because it is so worth it.
To look forward
Stacey thinks The Side Yard Farm property is perfect in its current state. Someday in the future, however, Stacey would like to purchase a larger property a little further outside the Portland metro area with approximately 10 acres for a fruit tree orchard.
This new dream is inspired by her family vacations growing up. His family had a tradition of stopping to pick fresh fruit at the end of any trip, including cherries, peaches and apples. Stacey envisions a U-Pick farm to use as an event location. These future plans have the potential to open up more opportunities to work with NRCS.
See Stacey in June for Pride
“It’s been a busy month, but the best month,” Stacey says of Pride Month and all the celebrations and events planned on the farm. “So many people are happy to be here, feel safe and seen.”
If you’re local to the Portland area, check out what happens on the farm celebrating this month of June.
Stacey will participate as a speaker at the USDA Pride LGBTQ+ Farmer Roundtable on June 21 at 10 a.m. PT. The event is open to the public and will be hosted on Zoom. Join the event here.
Bug and Benny
Bug, the 14-year-old farm cat, has retired
pest control role.
Benny, the farm pup, took over as pest control, watching the moles move around under the ground before moving on.
Photo credit: Shawn Linehan (exception – photos of Bug and Benny courtesy of Stacey Givens)