For every seed Shantae Johnson and Art Shavers plant on their 19-acre property near Corbett, Oregon, something magical blossoms in the greater Portland community. A young farmer gains a toehold in agriculture. A veteran heals deep wounds through therapeutic farming. Portland celebrates the bounty of its black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) farmers.
Johnson and Shavers’ Mudbone Grown farm is built on “intergenerational community-based farming.” That sounds new-age, but it’s actually what they grew up with, gardening with their grandmothers and learning generations of lessons about plants, food, and life. The couple was raising their family on steady jobs—Shantae worked for the county as a breastfeeding counselor and Art was a leather worker, emergency medical technician, and truck driver—but in 2013, they felt the pull of the land.
Above, top to bottom. Mudbone Grown emphasizes the role of healthy food in strengthening healthy communities. A hydroponic start. Johnson puts cull kale to work fattening potbellied pigs.
“In 2013, Shantae and I started gardening,” Shavers says. “We had recently lost both our grandmothers, so it was really significant to do this as a tribute to them. But as we got more and more into it, we started realizing that the lifestyle was something that we wanted to go further. We started talking about homesteading, about trying to purchase land. But we were in no shape to purchase anything.”
Sharing lessons. After several months in a farmer training program, Johnson and Shavers took over a quarter-acre urban farm on a piece of county land that a friend had been cultivating before it was to be developed into affordable housing.
The next year, they drew up a business plan to farm an acre of land next door to the Oregon Food Bank. True to their nature as tireless farmers, dedicated teachers, and accomplished multitaskers, Johnson and Shavers packed the acre with plants, people, and opportunity. The harvest helped sustain hunger-fighting organizations, 20 families that prepaid for weekly harvest shares in a CSA (community supported agriculture), and an adjacent nursery school. Neighbors joined in to learn farming.
When the couple bought the Corbett farm 20 miles west of the city in 2018, they brought their deep sense of mission with them. “It’s important to us to not only get into a space, but share the space, share the resources, and share the challenges and the successes that we have,” says Shavers. “We’re doing the thing while we’re building the thing, which tends to be a trend in our communities when we don’t have the resources available to us.” Mudbone Grown is a work in progress, and every step—and stumble—is a learning opportunity they’re eager to share.
Above. In addition to her roles as mother, farmer, and mentor, Shantae Johnson of Mudbone Grown Farm was named by Oregon’s governor to the state’s Board of Agriculture to represent small farmers.
“We feel honored to be able to share our journey and our experience, and maybe we would encourage someone, or our learned lessons would prevent them from going through some of the same things,” Shavers explains. “We’ll be very transparent about what the journeys look like.” The couple secured funding for several creative programs designed to encourage agricultural entrepreneurship.
A USDA 2501 grant supports their Beginning Farmers of Color program. Their Pathways to Farming incubator is funded by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant, and Boots2Roots, which introduces veterans to farming as a form of therapy, is supported by the Office of Rural Health and the local Veterans Administration.
So far, three dozen people have participated in the couple’s training programs, and hundreds of families have been gifted Love Shares donation food baskets. Thirty more families subscribe to the Mudbone Grown CSA, which is being transferred to energetic young farmers on the property.
“We’re transferring the CSA to these farmers,” explains Shavers. “We’ll support them, helping them with crop planning. If any of their crops fail, we’ll have backups, but we’re allowing them to get their feet. We did the same thing with our veteran farmers—they transitioned from being just an employee to having their own farm, and they got their own 30-person CSA, which they were successful with. We’re really about helping to support beginning entrepreneurs.”
There’s more. A new aquaponic facility on the farm combines vegetable and fish production, while a 96-foot-long greenhouse allows Mudbone Grown to provide vegetable starts to farmers both on and off the property.
It’s all about sharing, says Johnson. “It’s just a lot of natural sharing of information and resources with farmers, but we’re sharing opportunities, as well.
“A lot of our farmers were already doing community organizing and community work before they came to our program,” she adds. “We’ve had the privilege of seeing them blossom even more over time through having access to different types of resources. We love to see other farmers succeed in whatever dreams and ambitions they have for themselves.”
One of those young dreamers was Alexandria “Sasha” Gilbert. As a child, she was captivated by gardening. Later, she worked on coffee farms in Guatemala and southern Mexico to better understand the crop.
Furloughed during the pandemic, Gilbert helped a friend in the Pathways to Farming program, and ended up planting herbs on her own 50-by-80-foot plot.
Last year, Gilbert found more than a plot of land, access to tools and water, and a lot of education at Mudbone Grown. She found inspiration in Johnson and Shavers.
“Being a witness to them, seeing them, it’s pure motivation,” she says. “There’s no excuse to let anything hold you back.” ‡