BEAVERTON, Ore. – Alvas Powell left home when he was 18 years old, moving to a place that bears little resemblance to his Danvers Pen, Jamaica, home. But when Stand Together Week comes around – running now through June 15 – there’s one project that allows him to remember what life is like back St. Thomas parish. That’s why he always volunteers to tend the chickens at Zenger Farms.
“Here,” in the United States, “there’s a lot of people scared of getting close to them,” Powell says, of the birds who are regular fixtures of life back home. “But for me, it’s fun to catch them and play with them, a little bit.”
Powell grew up in a place where chickens were a regular part of his day-to-day life. Like many of the domesticated animals in his lush, green, rural Danvers Pen, chickens would roam freely in the roads, live calmly in families’ yards, and coexist casually among the community’s residents, according to Powell. They’re still “pretty wild,” the Timbers’ defender explains, but where he grew up, the chickens were also “all over the place.”
“A lot of people tame them, have them in their home, running around,” Powell explains. “It’s pretty common, back home. You can even walk on the street and see a fowl. But here, it’s totally different. Now, anywhere I see them, I can catch them.”
He laughs at his words, knowing how strange it sounds to Americans. The whole conversation, in fact, is a little absurd. The idea of him having to explain his connection to chickens? His words don’t say it, but the feeling is in the air: Oh, how sheltered these people’s lives are.
Those who attended the Stand Together Week project at Zenger Farms in 2016 saw this first hand, with Powell’s affinity for the farm’s birds creating an instant legend among his fellow volunteers. According to at least one person at that event, while Zenger representatives were trying to placate volunteers, explaining they wouldn’t need to actually have contact with the chickens, Powell was leaping over the short fences, chasing the chickens, basking in a moment that he could have just as well enjoyed back home.
“I’m not scared of them, really,” he said, remembering how most of the volunteers interacted with the chickens. “[The chickens] are friendly. I’m used to them, by now, from back home, so when I moved here, it became really easy. They’re my friends.”
The project, which is one among a host of this year’s Stand Together Week calendar, brings players, coaches and staff from the Timbers, Thorns and T2 families together along with community volunteers to weed, remove invasive species and clean up around Zenger Farm – an urban farm which serves as an open-air classroom promoting and educating about “sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, community development and access to good food for all.”
The farm is located on the watershed in deep southeast Portland on land that was purchased by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services in 1999, five years after the death of Ulrich Zenger, Jr., whose father had purchased the land 76 years before. In 1999, a group called the Friends of Zenger Farm was assembled, hoping to continue “expanding (the farm’s) role as an educational and environmental resource.”
The project hosts summer camps, supports a community supported agriculture program, and offers various classes and community events throughout the year. For Powell, though, the appeal of the goes beyond what the Southeast Foster farm is doing for sustainable agriculture. For a player who left Jamaica at such a young age, Zenger offers a needed note of nostalgia, forging a link back to Danvers Pen life he left years ago.
“You can picture yourself back home, where you live,” he says. “[The chicken’s area] has to be clean. So, I’m willing to help: to clean the chicken coup; feed them. It’s a big thing. They have a life, like us, so I enjoy being around them.”
Returning to Zenger again this year, Powell’s volunteerism has helped connect his new life and old. And in his excitement, on display for others at June 14’s event, he’ll provide a glimpse of where one of Portland’s standout players is from.