There is no middle man for the Side Yard Farm & Kitchen. Farmer/chef/owner Stacey Givens is personally involved in every step, from planting the seeds to bringing delicious locally grown produce to your table. Her farm has a diverse assortment of produce including seasonal veggies, fruits, and herbs. She even managed to point out some wasabi which she was inspired to grow after a recent trip to Japan. Each row reveals a new way Stacey has creatively applied her knowledge of urban farming.
How did the Side Yard get it’s start?
It started back in Spring of 2009. Prior to that I was working in a restaurant for a few years called Rocket, which is now Noble Rot. It was kind of a high tech American cuisine with a rooftop garden concept. I was a line cook there and asked if I could split my time between the kitchen and the rooftop, and this was right when they were building it. I met the master gardener up there and he’s still my mentor to this day. He pretty much taught me everything I needed to know about farming in small spaces. This gave me a connection between growing the food and bringing it to the kitchen. When Rocket closed down I decided to find my own piece of land. I heard about a neighborhood in NE that’s known for having smaller houses with huge plots. So I started going door to door and asking people if I could farm their side yard. Then I got lucky with a couple that bought a double lot and they pretty much said ‘you can use this lot, we’re not doing anything with it’, and I’m still their to this day. Over time, ‘Sideyard’ just kinda grew. I just wanted land, didn’t have a plan, and I was still working in restaurants. I thought I would just sell produce to my buddies at work who shared the same food philosophies as me. And that’s basically how it started. Now we’re selling to 15 local restaurants and provide for our own catering company.
How many properties did you say you had?
We have 3 total. Our original one was 1/4 acre, this new one is a full acre but we only have 1/2 acre in production, so we leave space for venue space and workshops. Then there’s my homestead which is 1/3 of an acre and we farm there as well. They’re all within a mile of each other which is nice.
Can you tell us about the seed to plate movement?
You always hear ‘farm to table’, so while I was working full time between the farm and restaurant, it just hit me, ‘Seed to Plate’! That to me makes more sense because we’re literally spreading seeds, nurturing the plants, harvesting and then bringing it back to the kitchen for a supper, brunch, or other dining experience. It creates this connection. Seed to plate takes things one step further.
You mentioned your food philosophy earlier. Could you elaborate more on that?
My food philosophy is being as resourceful as possible. I run my farm like I run my kitchen. With urban farming you have to get the most out of the land as you can. Because you’re having to pay city water prices plus rent, so it’s like, ‘ok how can we be creative with our produce’? I love being extremely resourceful, creative, and having fun with what we grow.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Good question! From a lot of my mentors over the years. Marc Boucher-Colbert is one of them. He’s the rooftop farmer at Noble Rot right now. He’s taught me a lot about farming. Also, I once worked in a restaurant in the bay area, called Millennium. They were a fine dining vegan place. I love meat but at that time I thought I should check out vegan food. They did it very well. That kitchen blew my mind.
What does it mean to be a creative in Portland today?
It seems like everyone in Portland is creative. This is our 8th season and things just kind of happened naturally for us. If people think it’s cool, then awesome! We started doing these bike-in movie nights. I mean, we have this huge property. We thought how awesome it would be to promote all these other vendors we love working with. Brewery’s, distillery’s, and other food vendors. Collaboration is a really big thing for us. I feel like you see that a lot in Portland because there are so many creative people. Bringing all these people together that do different things, we get to spotlight each other and we compliment each other very well.
What do you wish was happening more in the creative community?
That would probably take me back to collaboration. I mean, it happens, sure, but there is still a lot of competition out there with creative people. If more people came together instead of competing against each other, I think that’s one thing Portland could benefit from. Within the chef community there are some chefs with huge ego’s that don’t want to collaborate with anybody. Same with some farmers. Being creative with other people lets you both show off what you’re doing while complimenting each other.
What sets Portland apart as a city?
I grew up in LA and I’ve been in Portland for 10 years now. I don’t think I could have made this happen to this extent if I was living in LA. In a lot of larger cities it’s much tougher. You wouldn’t be able to reach out to as many people as you want. I know Portland is growing fast but at the same time it’s amazing how many people we reach out to. It totally makes a difference and that’s what sets us apart. We’re known for independently owned businesses. The city seems to make it easy to succeed. That’s why Portland is so cool! It’s like you can have anything you want here.
What do you love most about your work?
What I love most is connecting with a lot of different people. That’s my favorite thing. I meet people every day. There’s always someone walking up saying ‘What’s this? Can you tell me about this?’.
Right! Like you or somebody just cruising by and I’m like ‘watch, they’re going to stop and take a picture!’. That is what I love about what I do. Farming, teaching, cooking… I don’t feel like I’m coming into work every day.
Learn more, visit and discover The Side Yard & Kitchen Here!