Sustainability | Agriculture | Ecotrope

In Portland: A CSA ... On A Superfund Site?

Ecotrope | July 23, 2012 12:06 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:30 p.m.

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A Portland company that specializes in rainwater collection and aquaponics – growing plants and fish in water – wants to start a new kind of community supported agriculture right on this pavement.

A Portland company that specializes in rainwater collection and aquaponics – growing plants and fish in water – wants to start a new kind of community supported agriculture right on this pavement.

The aquaponics gurus at Portland Purple Water have a grand vision for community supported agriculture on what is now a pretty rough-looking piece of industrial property.

Granted, the site is a lot better than it was.

The Mar Com site in North Portland was flagged for toxic clean-up by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in 1999. It’s also within the boundaries of the infamous Portland Harbor Superfund site. But now that the site’s contaminated soils and piles of grit laced with lead and arsenic have been removed, the site is cleared for redevelopment.

The vacant, blackberry-lined blacktop is a far cry from pastoral. But according to Jason Garvey of Portland Purple, that’s not a problem with aquaponic growing, which allows you to grow food without soil.

His CSA – should he find the money to build it – would provide all the nutrients for its 30 members year-round by growing veggies and raising fish in an aquaponic greenhouse. To top it off, the greenhouse would generate its own solar power, too, using an advanced design inspired by German physicist Franz Schreier.

A customized solar greenhouse is the cornerstone of Portland Purple Water's plans for the MarCom industrial site.

A customized solar greenhouse is the cornerstone of Portland Purple Water's plans for the MarCom industrial site.

Using shipping containers to create an above-ground greenhouse structure, Garvey plans to build the aquaponics fish- and plant-growing system right on top of the pavement. He’s excited to test out the possibility of growing lots of food so close to where people live, reducing food miles and environmental impacts.

“If you grow anything in one location and you sell it into a different location, there’s massive degradation associated with that,” he said. “One of the answers for this is to grow food within a community.”

The reality, he said, is that traditional farming isn’t what it used to be.

“We just don’t have 1850’s soil anymore and we don’t have 1850’s population,” he said. “You can go to the farmers market and you’re doing something that’s incrementally better than shopping at WinCo. But the reality is there’s food miles there, and energy costs and packaging and on and on.”

Garvey’s project is just what Matt Stein has in mind for the former Brownfield site.

Stein’s business Pier Partners is currently leasing 7 acres of the former shipyard in St. Johns and hopes to fill the property with eco-friendly businesses under a new business name, Green Anchor.

“We’re hoping to turn it into a sustainable business incubator,” he said. “A big community space to bring people together for sustainability.”

But the property is zoned for heavy industry, so Stein is also looking at the possibility of hosting a wooden boat builder and biochar production at the site. Biochar can be any biomass that has been converted into a stable form of charcoal, he explained, and it can be used as a soil amendment or to absorb pollutants in groundwater.

“Aquaponics fits nicely into our plans,” he said. “Our vision is to have it open to the public and available for tours, workshops and events.”

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