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Farm Visit: Growing Flowers and Resilience on Sauvie Island in Oregon

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Farm Visit: Growing Flowers and Resilience on Sauvie Island in Oregon

April 25, 2024

Sauvie Island, one of the largest river islands in the country, is just a quick drive from Portland, OR. Known for its mix of farmland and wildlife refuge, the island offers a wealth of adventure for birders, kayakers, beachgoers, and folks wanting to visit farms. One particularly nurturing and multi-faceted farm is the 5-acre Island Farm Studio. Led and founded by talented farmer, photographer, art director, and mother Christine James, this creative and florific property is completely women-run. The farm grows a variety of herbs, grasses, annuals, and perennials for cut flowers and natural dyes; it also boasts a refined culinary garden from which the freshest produce is picked for farm-to-table events. With a focus on sustainability, land restoration, and regenerative farming, Island Farm Studio hosts workshops and conservation-based classes as well.

Photography courtesy of Christine James.

The farm at golden hour. 
Above: The farm at golden hour. 

Christine grows all her plants from seed, and while this can be challenging and unpredictable, this method is not only cost-effective but also offers her a wider variety of options, which is essential for large-scale cut flower production. She and her team prioritize organic practices by avoiding toxic chemicals for weed and pest control. “Our methods include manual weeding, planting trap and companion crops, and hand-picking pests.” Bees also play a crucial role as pollinators in the farm’s ecosystem.

Above: Christine loves poppies for photographing and dahlias for flower bouquets.

While choosing a favorite cut flower is always a delightful challenge, Christine says, “As both a commercial farmer and an artist, my favorites vary depending on their purpose. For commercial flower farming, I prioritize ease of harvesting, vase life, and freshness at market.” Her top choices for market flowers include ball-shaped dahlias, apricot peony asters, lisianthus, snapdragons, and marigolds for their beauty and sturdiness. “For botanical portraiture, I adore working with English roses, delicate poppies, lacy sweet peas, peonies, and feathered tulips, each possessing its own romantic charm.” For making natural dyes, Christine cultivates a variety of flowers, including indigo, marigolds, coreopsis, tango cosmos, and black knight scabiosa.

Christine has made it a priority to create an inclusive environment at the farm.
Above: Christine has made it a priority to create an inclusive environment at the farm.

Farming and photography have been transformative for Christine. “My journey with flowers began as a means of creating a sanctuary for myself and my children after surviving domestic violence. Flowers have been integral to my healing, artistic expression, and agricultural journey,” she shares. “Through photography and farming, I’ve found language for my experiences. (You can view her latest exhibit, “Flowers Pressed,” on her web gallery.) The farm gifts her with ample blooms to photograph and create bouquets from, but it has also taught her invaluable lessons. “Balancing fiscal responsibility, year-round work demands, and preventing burnout are constant challenges here,” she says. Wisely, she makes it a priority to carve out spaces solely for personal joy. Christine adds, “Humility in recognizing the boundless mysteries of the natural world and the importance of respecting and listening to Mama Earth are ongoing lessons.”

This season, Island Farm Studio is focusing on fostering accessibility. &#8\2\20;We aim to create a safe space for community members and artists to connect with nature through events like outdoor gallery evenings showcasing local artwork inspired by the land.&#8\2\2\1; 
Above: This season, Island Farm Studio is focusing on fostering accessibility. “We aim to create a safe space for community members and artists to connect with nature through events like outdoor gallery evenings showcasing local artwork inspired by the land.” 

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