The nomination period for the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) annual county committee elections began June 15 and continues through Aug. 1, 2023. Throughout the nomination period, we’ll be introducing county committee members from across the nation. In our final installment of the series, we’ll meet Josh Volk of Portland, Oregon.
Josh currently runs Cully Neighborhood Farm where he produces vegetables with his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members and sells extras on-site for the wider community. He came to work with Cully Neighborhood Farm in 2016 after working on a handful of other farms just outside of Portland starting in 2001, including his own farm, Slow Hand Farm, which he ran from 2009 to 2012.
The spark for Josh’s initial interest in urban farming started 25 years ago when he was farming in California. He then spent almost 20 years working on direct market farms in rural areas before bringing that experience back to the urban environment.
“I’ve had a special interest in working with hand tools. Urban farms and hand tools fit well together, and while I don’t always work exclusively with hand tools, or with food, the Slow Food principles of ‘good, clean and fair’ are always at the core of what I do,” Josh said. “Most of the produce from the farm is pre-sold online and then collected at the farm itself. We do a small number of sales through an onsite farm stand.”
Urban Producer’s Voice
The 2018 Farm Bill directed USDA to establish county committees specifically focused on urban agriculture. Portland is one several with an FSA county committee dedicated to urban agriculture. These committees work to encourage and promote urban, indoor and other emerging agricultural production practices. Additionally, these committees may address areas such as food access, community engagement, support of local activities to promote and encourage community compost and food waste reduction.
Josh has served on the Portland urban county committee since 2020.
Urban committee members are nominated and elected to serve by local urban producers in the same jurisdiction. Producers on the committee help deliver FSA farm programs at the local level, and work to make federal farm programs serve the needs of local producers.
Each year, FSA accepts nominations for a certain Local Administrative Area and the LAA up for election rotates each year.
Josh says that Cully Neighborhood Farm is an oasis for the community, providing green, open space for its many visitors and CSA members who pick up their produce weekly during the harvest season.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was especially appreciated that good, clean, fair food was available with safe pick up made easier given the large, outdoor nature of the distribution system,” Josh said.
2020 proved to be a challenging year for the farm while they tackled wildfire smoke damage on top of the pandemic. The farm utilized FSA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2, which provided critical support to agricultural producers who faced market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Josh added CFAP 2 really helped the farm continue through those challenging seasons.
Despite the challenges, Josh attributes the farm’s success to a supportive community of customers and neighbors that love having the farm in their neighborhood. He’s also had several fantastic employees, many who have gone on to start their own farms.
Susan Riffel is the FSA communications coordinator for FSA in Oregon.