While some feel the need to choose between farming and cooking, Stacey Givens, 31, couldn’t decide. Instead, she’s made a career of doing them both.
“Farming and cooking are my life,” Givens says. “My girlfriend gets so mad at me because I’m either reading a cookbook or a farming book or writing a menu or something.”
Givens’ business, the Side Yard Farm and Kitchen, provides various and sundry services from private catering, farm-to-table dinners, locally grown produce for restaurants, and cooking classes.
“It’s always been about food for me,” she says. “I loved instantly the whole family feeling you get from being a part of a kitchen – the fast paced environment and your adrenaline pumping.”
Givens first start working with food at age 15, when she was still in high school. The youngest seven siblings, she worked at her brother’s restaurant in Southern California. From there, she moved to the Bay Area, and in 2006 she moved to Portland.
“The food in farming scene in Portland is amazing,” she said, “so I decided I had to be there.
After training at the Oregon Culinary Institute, she got a job working at the restaurant Rocket, located in the space that is now Noble Rot. She was the garden liaison, and she split her time between the kitchen and the rooftop garden. That’s where she learned to farm.
She opened Side Yard in 2009 and has since expanded. The farm has been particularly well known for its micro crops: tiny radishes, carrots and beets.
Givens started coming out to her family when she was 14. She first told her six brothers and sisters, all much older than her. They kept the secret from her parents, including her Greek mother, until she graduated from high school.
“My parents always knew,” she says. “They just never really said anything. They would say things to kind of push me away from it, like negative things about being gay, in hopes that I wasn’t.
“And then I finally told them, and of course my mom flipped out and started screaming in Greek things like ‘What’s everybody in the family going to think?’ and ‘You’re a disgrace to us.’ And then about three months later she got over it.”
Since then, Givens jokes that she has become the favorite child. And she says her mother adores her partner, Meika.
Givens has even since visited the village on the tiny island where her mother grew up. Givens has always been especially skilled at preparing greek food, but on the island, she got to taste the local culture. There, she also had her first experience eating meat that was recently slaughtered.
“I thought, ‘Whoa, didn’t we just see that lamb earlier today?’” she recalls. It was one of the experiences that inspired her to start her business.
Givens is now planning to add a legal kitchen to her business so that she can host more cooking classes and more slaughtering workshops, as well as more catering events.
She adds that Portland is such an accepting place, she doesn’t like to label her farm as an exclusively queer space.
“I get so many different people that come to the farm,” she says. “It’s so open here, and I can be whoever I am wherever I go.”
For more on The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen, click HERE.
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