When Liam Ridgewell reflects on his time participating in Stand Together Week as a player, he can’t help but remember the chickens.
His days working outdoors involved yardwork, gardening and shoveling mulch, but it was difficult not to be distracted as then-teammate Alvas Powell ran around chasing the chickens at Zenger Farm.
“Me and Alvas were like ‘Listen, you tell us where to go, we’ll help out and we’ll probably mess around while doing it,’” Ridgewell said. “Hopefully we didn’t mess it up too much, but we always enjoyed it and it was a good day to help out.”
Ridgwell's memory perfectly depicts what the club’s annual Stand Together Week, which kicks off today and runs July 11-17, is all about. It’s not always serious, instead it's a week meant for players, staff and the Portland community to work together and serve others throughout the region.
The annual event, which first began in 2012, often occurs in midsummer and sees many organizations participate. This year there are over 20 partners and on Jul. 14, the organization will return to Zenger Farm, a constant favorite among players and volunteers. Located in southeast Portland, the farm's mission statement explains, is "a nonprofit urban and organic farm that models, promotes and educates about sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, community development and access to good food for all."
What does the partnership with the club mean for each organization and how exactly does it impact the community? Ahead of the 12th-annual Stand Together Week, Ridgewell as well as Rob Cato, Zenger Farm's Co-Executive Director, discussed the impact of the week from both perspectives how they hope to see it grow and more.
Cato has served on the Zenger Farm staff for almost seven years in varying roles. He started as a youth education volunteer before gradually advancing to the executive director position, a role in which he remains today.
Stand Together Week has been around for as long as Cato has been with the organization. For Zenger Farm, the week is vital because it brings in much more help than a normal weekend and serves to provide wider awareness of the organization and its efforts.
“This is another opportunity to get a bunch of folks on the farm and working on large projects,” Cato said. “It’s even more helpful to have an event around it, and I imagine that there was a connection that was made between the Timbers and us. It was a great way for us to get more support.”
The farm site sits at 24 total acres and consists of two large main buildings, a classroom, wetland, and farmhouse space. With so much land, the increased help Zenger Farm receives during Stand Together Week makes a significant difference in maintaining its green infrastructure, such as bio wells and rainwater catchment systems.
To take advantage of the additional labor resources, Zenger Farm plans larger projects during Stand Together Week. This year, some activities will include clearing rainwater pathways as well as the orchard and gardening.
“There are always bigger scale projects on the farm because we’re such a large property,” Cato said. “We just wait until there’s going to be a large gathering of folks to get this stuff done and then decide what to do based on existing projects.”
Ridgewell first heard about Stand Together Week in July 2014 when he arrived in Portland and fully embraced it from his first day of volunteering. As someone who loves being outdoors, working at organizations such as Zenger Farm gave him a fun reprieve from the grind of the day-to-day MLS schedule.
“We don’t get to be able to do a lot because of training and traveling, so it’s a great thing the organization set up for someone to go and help people and meet people who may not follow the Timbers,” Ridgewell said.
Each year the organization places a sign-up sheet in the locker room where players are asked to sign up for days and times that work for them. With limited spots per activity, the sign-up process occasionally became competitive. All Ridgewell knew, however, was that he wanted to be outdoors.
“I enjoyed being outside trying to help,” Ridgewell said. “I didn’t want to be stuck inside, so Zenger [Farm] was a great cause to help with.”
As the former Timbers defender alluded to, what makes Stand Together Week so special is that it provides an opportunity for players and fans to interact side-by-side, a rarity in the world of professional sports today.
“I see folks who love the Portland Timbers and love watching these players being able to work alongside them,” Cato said. “There’s usually a bit of an intimidation factor there, but I think folks are just really excited to work with them and see them do the things they do in terms of gardening.”
And then there is the natural competitiveness world-class athletes bring to activities such as shoveling mulch or pulling trees, which further benefits the organizations that participate in the week. Ordinary service tasks become a race as each player tries to one-up their teammate, all for a good cause. Oftentimes by the end of a week, organizations such as Zenger Farm are able to notice a tangible difference in the larger tasks needed to be accomplished.
“You’re able to really see a huge difference in these projects,” Cato said. “You’re able to see a garden space fully transformed or an area on the farm that supports rainwater catchments fully usable again.”
It has been a couple of years since the last time the Timbers and Thorns have visited Zenger Farm with the club having not been there since 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented many in-person service activities, but this year marks a grand return.
For 2022, the week will serve as a catalyst as the farm continues to build back from the pandemic. According to Cato, it has been the first year since COVID-19 began that Zenger Farm has had consistent Saturday opportunities for other groups to volunteer.
Still around the Timbers’ organization daily as part of the Timbers broadcast team, Ridgewell has noticed the uptick in service opportunities available since his playing days and hopes to see the week continue to evolve. On Cato’s end, the hope is that Stand Together Week is just the tip of the iceberg, one that spurs further engagement throughout the year.
“I’d love to make Stand Together Week something where people are showing up to work in support, but then also learn more about what we do at the farm and creates those pipelines to other opportunities,” Cato said.
At the end of the day, it’s a fun week meant for players and community to get together and serve a greater goal. There’s yardwork, but also chasing chickens as organizations, such as Zenger Farm, receive an influx of help and additional awareness.
“I think it’s a great thing we do,” Ridgewell said. “Players love doing it and being out there.”