Thursday, September 3, 2009

Multnomah County vs. Kruger's Farm

A Letter to Friends of Kruger's Farm,

I report with great regret that once again Multnomah County has ramped up their code enforcement team against us. As you might already know, the code enforcement decision of Multnomah County is driven by complaints. Last August a complaint was filed by my neighbor about commercial activities that were going on at the farm --farm concerts, farm to plate weddings, birthday parties, etc. The complaint had nothing to do with the usual things that people complain about, such as noise or rowdy behavior. But instead it was about land use. (It is interesting to note that the neighbor has a history of complaining about a wide range of issues, and he also had a significant measure 37 claim filed that was rejected). Previous to any complaint, we met with attorneys to discuss what we were doing and whether these activities were allowed. I was advised that our 1982 farm stand permit allowed what we were doing, but at anytime the county might require us to update that permit. In August of last year that process began with the filing of the complaint. Over the next 10 months we spent $40,000 with attorneys, land use planners, and traffic engineers to develop a comprehensive plan to make our case for continuing the farm activities that were critical to our economic future and survival at the farm.

Ultimately, Multnomah County made their decision to reject a number of activities with what we believe are weak arguments. One such argument was "you can have a wedding or a birthday party anywhere." But thankfully they allowed the concert series because of the huge public out cry(when the public realized that this amazing family celebration at the farm was going to be taken away).

What has been particularly disturbing about the land decision is that Multnomah County has sanctioned high impact fall carnivals. Examples of this are haunted corn maizes, which are nothing more than an outdoor haunted house, often bringing in rowdy teenagers. These events require hiring a large number of employees called "corn cops" to manage the crowd. Other activities such as cow-trains, pumpkin cannons, bouncy house, and catapults are often included. The sanctioning of the carnival is allowing some farms to get even more creative, by adding additional corn maizes for specific purposes such as haunting. The corn maize loop hole is so big you can imagine additional maizes created for almost anything...een a tractor-pull maize.
Multnomah County has made it clear in our decision that high impact fall carnival activities are OK. But farm to plate weddings -- beautiful low impact celebrations of farm food that embrace the new local food culture are not allowed. Many worry that allowing farm to plate weddings on farmland would encourage this to become a wide spread "problem" across the state. This domino effect is unlikely given the strict limitations of Farm Stand Guidelines, specifically the 75-25 rule. This rule dictates that only 25% of gross revenue on a farm stand can come from fee based activities. The strict nature of this limitation will limit the number of farms that can hold wedding as well as the number of weddings they can hold. The prohibitive expense of obtaining a Farm Stand Permit would also limit the number of farms that might choose to hold weddings on their property.

We are fortunate that the county requirements to update our farm stand permit came last year. For 5 years we were able to do 150 farm to plate dinners, which allowed us to generate enough revenue to purchase the farm in January of 2008. Without the fee based activities, this would have been the last year on the farm as our original 10 year lease would have expired. A gate would then be across the road and this farm would have become a commercial nursery (which is what the farm was going to be before I stepped up at the last second).

Before the county stepped in to stop our low impact farm to plate weddings, I had plans to purchase the back 80 acres to complete my vision of a public farm. The public farm concept is that on any day of the year one could walk the farm and watch it go through its seasonality. If you find a field of berries...go pick it. It you see some lettuce...cut it. If you see a berry... eat it. You can take your family on regular walks around our farm throughout the year. Watch the farm change... make it your farm. No signs telling you to keep out or no trespassing. At the beginning of the year I leased the back 80 acres from the Grande's on a 5 year lease with potential option to buy. The acquisition of the land ended a 9 year, sometimes contentious relationship with a commercial plant nursery. Spraying was intense, with lots of keep out signs. Those signs ended with my lease. The new land has given me opportunities to expand my plantings and most important returned it to what it originally was... a 160 acre public farm. Purchasing the land will be necessary and investing in farm infrastructure is crucial. Tractors, trucks, irrigation equipment, passive greenhouses to stretch seasons out to reduce trucking vegetable from California are all on hold because of the economic loss of the farm supporting fee based activities.

And now Multnomah County has taken yet another swipe at us! Rather then going into the details of this in my blog ... my wife has given a detailed account on our website. Click here to read all about the latest action by the county. Once you read it, if you have the time, please contact your county commissioner to express your concerns.

Once again... thank you for your support. I want you to know when I am down, all I do is take a walk around this farm... then it all feels worth it.


Hettie said...

Farmer Don,

My husband and I were married on your lovely farm three years ago. We would be happy to help you and other farmers seek a legislative solution to this problem. Farmers have enough problems trying to make a living today in Oregon and they should have the opportunity to share their farms with others for special events.

Erica Hagedorn

Rose City Rudo said...

Here's the link to our blog calling for our electronic friends to choose Kruger's this pumpkin buying season!

We, at the Portland Hallowe'en Bazaar are steadfast believers in Kruger's Farm.

thesmallviking said...

i emailed mr wheeler. how ridiculous to impose regulations on a place we all love and that strives to make a positive difference. thanks for all you do - and i'd be happy to help push legislation as well.

iMickey503 said...


Tell them there seeds are sprouting all over Oregon without paying royalties!


Hannah said...

So so sad to hear this! I was waiting for an update as my fiance and I were really hoping to be able to get married at the farm. I'll definitely be writing the commissioner!