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Three Portland Chefs Will Buy Farm Produce and Give it to Laid Off Restaurant Workers

In The Weeds aims to aid both sides of the industry

Lucie Gouin and Art Poulos and La Terra Vita
La Terra Vita/Official

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced dining room closures across the state, and with it, thousands of restaurant workers have been laid off. At the same time, Oregon farms have seen a sudden shortage in orders from temporarily-closed restaurants they usually rely on. A number of organizations have sprung up in the last week to address these issues separately; however, a new program is now trying to tackle both sides of the food industry, supporting both the local, independent farmers that provide Portland restaurants with so much of their produce, as well as those in the industry facing food-insecurity during layoffs.

Formed by chef KBar of the pop-up Hummus Hang, Olivia Starkie of the Last Supper pop-up, and Josephine LaCosta of the independent catering company Elbow’s Catering, In the Weeds purchases food directly from farms and provides it to unemployed workers.organization is looking to raise $10,000 via GoFundMe to finance the operation. Whatever funds are raised by the campaign will go to purchasing produce and other products from local farms and delivering them to around 60 people each month.

Those who are experiencing food insecurity can apply for the program, the team says, and they’ll prioritize individuals who have lost work due to COVID-19, including those laid off or who lost work due to sickness or other complications; the team is also investigating ways to reach undocumented workers who might not receive other forms of aid. The applications will go live online towards the end of the April, and then twice a month, In The Weeds will select 30 individuals to receive groceries. The In The Weeds team will then deliver the farm products, including produce, eggs, and beans. While they’re starting with 60 deliveries a month, they hope to see the project grow in the future, though it will likely stay just the three of them handling all operations.

Beyond helping those who are in need of food, the program seeks to help local farms whose production has been affected by the outbreak and subsequent restaurant closures. The funds from the campaign will help pay for farms’ next growing season; farms like La Terra Vita, Vibrant Valley, and Sun Gold Farm are already planning to work with In The Weeds.

La Terra Vita normally sells its greens, garlic, and other vegetables to chefs through the Portland State University farmers market, but with so many restaurants closed and lower foot traffic through the market, owners and farmers Lucie Gouin and Art Poulos weren’t optimistic about how the spring season would go. In The Weeds has given them a renewed sense of purpose, Poulos says. “Uncertainty is difficult to deal with, because we don’t know what all this work will result in. You need to have a higher purpose in mind to keep doing this work,” he says. “For us, and for those who will benefit from it and receive the produce, we think it’s a great idea to get underway.”

While In The Weeds is operating directly from farms to laid off workers, other programs around town are working to address similar concerns — Cocktail bar Botanist House is keeping production lines open with farms and feeding hundreds of out of work industry employees with its lunch program, while places like Proud Mary and Coquine have continued to purchase produce from local farms and now sell it as CSA-style boxes. Across the country, CSAs have surged in popularity as people turn towards delivery boxes for produce rather than risk visiting grocery stores.

In The Weeds team members report a goal of mid-to-late May to start delivering food, and plan on using only one or two delivery drivers to limit the amount of people that come in contact with the products. The initial $10,000 goal on GoFundMe will finance the operation through the summer and into early fall.

In the Weeds [Instagram]
In the Weeds [GoFundMe]
Oregon farmers dump produce as COVID-19 shuts down big customers [KGW]
Pearl District restaurant serves more than 6,000 free or reduced cost meals during COVID-19 outbreak [KGW]
A List of Relief Funds and Resources for Portland Restaurants, Bars, and Food Service Workers [EPDX]
Is This the Start of a CSA Boom? [Eater]
Previous Eater Portland Coronavirus coverage [EPDX]