Oregon Farm Link (OFL), a program of Friends of Family Farmers, is an on-line platform and curated resources for farmers to find land to launch or expand their businesses. OFL is offering one-on-one support and coaching for farmers of color seeking land in Oregon through our Navigate Program to boost their land search efforts and provide the tools for securing long term land tenure.
We are so excited to share a success story with you, just in time for Earth Day!
Roberta Eaglehorse-Ortiz (Oglala Lakota/Yomba Shoshone) is a first generation farmer of five years in Portland Oregon. Her work as a Community Health worker and Full Circle Doula led her to dream of a community garden for urban Native American families to learn to grow food, connect with the land and get grounded in our community outside. Blending Birth work and Earth work became more natural as her own reconnection took place. Holding a safer space for local Black, Indigenous, Peoples of Color (BIPOC) pregnant, breastfeeding/chestfeeding folks and supporters. The goal was to gather a loving environment to learn, teach and grow together. She joined the Pathways to Farming three year apprenticeship with Mudbone Grown, LLC, learning to grow Indigenous first foods of many nations across Turtle Island and medicinal plants that she uses to make value-added products to sell at local Portland Indigenous Marketplace. Wild harvesting native plants of the Pacific Northwest slowly made its way to her path with guidance of her Elders and other medicine folks.
As Roberta began networking across the Nation, State, County and region, the idea of land ownership quickly became a focus for her and her family. She made a web of all the resources available for dominant communities and families with generational wealth in agriculture. It did not take her and her husband Richard long to make a plan and work diligently to get a little piece of Peace back in honor of their Indigenous lineage. Oregon Farm Link has been on the radar through their tireless hunt for property close to Portland Metro for her husband to continue his apprenticeship as a plumber. The Friends of Family Farmers network and Navigation Program was shared with the farmers of the Pathways to Farming Program run by Mudbone Grown, LLC as a continued support to participants after our successful completion of our time in the program. Roberta reached out and Silvia Cuesta became her contact person, listening to all the whoas of the grueling search for land and received guidance on the process. It was so important to speak with someone who had owned and managed a farm and it was a plus that in Roberta’s case, she was Indigenous.
“We had looked at about 27 properties all over the PNW through the Coronavirus pandemic. And around 60 properties total in the last 5 years. That wasn’t an easy decision to buy at that time but for our family, it took the whole World to slow down for us to get ahead at all.” says Roberta. “To make it more realistic to everyone, we had a lot of help because we sought after it. If someone didn’t have an answer for us, they pointed us to someone who did. We started repairing credit, paying off student loans, outstanding medical bills, and so many collections about 10 years ago. We began diligently saving about 7 years ago and utilized programs that our family qualified for- Individual Development Accounts (IDA). The most helpful thing during this process was having open communication and excellent relations with our whole team. They were all on the same page about what I needed as a farmer, land steward and business owner of the Wombyn’s Wellness Garden, LLC. When opportunities arose that could meet our needs, our team, including the Navigate Program, didn’t hesitate to connect us. We were connected to land options as well as financial opportunities including a generous donation from a fellow farmer seeking to lend support to a Navigate program participant. In searching for property I was also extremely transparent on what we needed in our personal life as far as us as parents, caregivers, providers and individual people. “
Roberta and her husband wish they had known so many things sooner going into this process. Many of the growing pains were unnecessary as far as understanding the dynamics of the disproportionate wealth divide. They got out bid on so many properties anywhere from $30-150K on not much more than an acre of land. “We quickly learned how to make a strong offer and stick to our guns. We did that once and happened to get this home, gathering every single piece of pocket lint we could as the icing on top and it came out good in our favor.”
Roberta points out that there is an emotional piece as well that needs to be talked about. Being Native American and not able to afford land. When we talk about land back it’s packed with a devastating history of bloodshed of millions of Indigenous people. ReIndigenizing the ways in which we live, thrive and grow as humans is important. Many times relocating to rural areas leaves underrepresented folks feeling vulnerable & unsafe. Her personal advice for farmers looking for land is to interview all your agents/team for specialized knowledge in farmland and look outside what you think you need to begin your journey. Maybe you start on a smaller plot (urban, rural) dial in your markets, get your business foundations in order and upgrade down the road. Understand the land needs, water source, soil composition and costs of drilling wells and building stipulations.
Starting fresh on this land in Oregon City, Oregon, will take a few seasons of building better business infrastructure, meeting fellow farmers in the area, learning and cultivating the soil and starting slow in making this land adaptable as climate change is a very real issue for farmers everywhere. Never forgetting community and culture is key. Roberta says, “dialing up our foundation in homesteading is a life skill we cannot afford to slack on, to be useful in the foreseeable times to come. We will be implementing a food forest and revitalizing this land that has so many invasive plants (blackberry, bindweed), intimately care taking the trees on the property so they will be here long after we are and incorporating as much green energy as we can manage to afford.” We urge you to stay connected on social media (Facebook and Instagram) for fun updates and an honest look at one family trying to make a life in agriculture.
Roberta has been so inspired by the process that she decided to accept a job with Wisdom of the Elders as the Program Coordinator for the Wisdom Agriculture Business Incubator (WABI) program. We will be in support of the startup and development of an intimate number of Native American (American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander) adult interns who plan and create their agricultural/horticultural microenterprise businesses. For more information about that check is out here
Roberta’s advice: Chin up, don’t give up and happy hunting!
For more information about the Oregon Farm Link Navigate Program, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org