It is no secret that Multnomah County Alternative Community Service (ACS) has played large role in making CROPS the success it is today. Thirty year Multnomah County veteran and Community Justice Manager, Gerard Welch, was eager to participate when asked if ACS would help the CROPS program get off the ground. Gerard was familiar with the land the county intended to develop for CROPS, saying, “In east county we knew that area off of NE Halsey as the old pig farm and remember the former owner, Fuji Farms, who grew a variety of berries. It seemed a reasonable location for the site considering that it has been farmed pretty consistently over the last 100 years.”
After the county took care of the necessary paperwork and processes (feasibility study, labor allocation etc.), phase one- blackberry bush removal began in April 2009. Being a gardener for most of his life, and familiar with the many noxious weeds/invasive species in Oregon, Gerard was ready to take this on. Multiple ACS vans with up to 30 people per day were at the front line removing 5-8 foot tall blackberry bushes. It took a little under a month to clear the first field of the two acre area that was to become the farm and the project went full steam ahead with the teamwork of Dan Bravin, ACS and a diverse group of community volunteers. These efforts paid off when the harvest total came in at 6 tons that first year, all going to the Oregon Food Bank.
Gerard fondly remembers his time out in the field working alongside those fulfilling their community service hours. He says, “Having people serve at CROPS is an ideal example of the restorative justice philosophy, which is the foundation of ACS. Our ultimate goal is restoring offenders to the community, and what better way than growing food for others in need. When they see their actions have a direct positive impact on their community they definitely tell people about it.” Gerard would love to someday see an expansion of the farm knowing that the need for emergency food is continuing to rise.
Without the help from ACS it would have taken much longer to get CROPS in farmable condition. ACS crews have continued to support CROPS over the years and are an integral part of the property’s weekly maintenance.
A special thanks to Gerard and his ACS crew leaders- we couldn’t do it without you!