Harvest dinner celebrates farming, family

November 27, 2019

Farmer Shantae Johnson stops to play during a harvest dinner celebrating REACH and Mudbone Grown partnership
Elaina Johnson slid into a seat next to her son, 7-year-old Marcus. Beside them her husband Demarcus rocked their younger son, 3-year-old Mathias.

Mathias slept as the din of voices grew around him — parents greeting one another and filling plates with steaming baked potatoes and broccoli, children jockeying for cups of hot chocolate and apple cider. 

The Johnson families joined other participants of a seasonal farm share program this week for a harvest celebration to honor the farm and the public health program that brought them together.  

Multnomah County’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health — REACH — program teamed up for a second year with the Black-owned farm Mudbone Grown to provide weekly produce boxes to Black and African American families.

For the Johnsons, that meant trying fennel for the first time (not a favorite), frying potatoes with fresh onion and garlic (a definite winner) and weekly servings of organic collard greens.

For Jean Marcellus, originally of Haiti, it meant supplementing a diet already rich with produce and trying new fruits. His favorite — it takes him a moment to recall the name, similar in color to a mango — "A peach!" he exclaims with a smile.

“Fruits and vegetables are good for your body,” he said. “They make you stronger and younger.”

More than a dozen families gathered Tuesday night to celebrate the final weeks of their community-supported agriculture program. Along with walls of the Northeast Health Center conference room, families stopped before posters where they could vote on their favorite foods — the classics, potatoes and collard greens, were clear frontrunners. Among the favorite recipes, stickers lined up next to spicy skillet turnip greens, zucchini fritters and chunky curried kabocha squash dip.

REACH Nutrition Specialist Helen Kidane, left, jokes with farmer Shantae Jonson and REACH program manager Charlene McGee

Between conversions and running children, staff from REACH and Mudbone Grown raffled off gifts including a copy of Soul Food Love, a turkey dinner prepared by Mudbone Grown and an Insta Pot. South East Portland hairstylist Sa’ Korya Avery gave away samples of her Diamonds in the Rough hair and body creams. 

Mudbone Grown farmer Shantae Johnson thanked the guests and the County for supporting her farm.

“It means a lot to have the support of the County behind us,” she said. 

REACH program manager Charlene McGee said the program speaks to the resilience of the Black community  — many of whom experience higher rates of chronic disease associated with a lack of access to healthy food. The REACH partnership with Mudbone Grown shows the power of this model. 

“We’re learning as we grow together,” she told the crowd. “Thank you for showing up and contributing to the collective effort to build a culture of health for the Black community in Multnomah County.”

Jackie and Sultan Weatherspoon stood together near the back of the room, keeping track of their three teens, the youngest of whom voiced disappointment in acorn squash and his approval in cabbage soup with fennel. 

Jackie said she tried beets, but wasn’t impressed. “I'm not a beet person,” she said, but she did fall in love with Brussels sprouts, and began preparing collard greens again after many years.

Jackie moved from Florida, where collards were a family staple. But she said she stopped cooking them when she and Sultan had children, opting instead for mild-tasting kid-friendly foods. The Mudbone Grown boxes reintroduced them to the greens.

“It has been awesome,” she said. 

Every time she picks up her produce box, it’s as if she’s in an episode of Chopped, and has to come up with a recipe that incorporates uncommon and divergent ingredients. 

“I usually make a curry or a stir fry," she said. “It's wonderful.”