Harper Keeler

When his father, an Air Force pilot, died in Vietnam, and his mother remarried, Harper Keeler went from grade school at the Air Force Academy to middle and high school in Pleasantville, N.Y. After two years of college at SUNY Potsdam, he worked for five years at a plant nursery in Bedford, N.Y. “That got me interested in plants and designing with plants,” says Keeler, who spent two years living the “hippie life” off the grid in Vermont before he moved west in 1990 to study landscape architecture at the UO. “I was admitted into the OWL program, for Older, Wiser Learners.” He specialized in sustainable agriculture and became a team leader in the school’s innovative Urban Farm Program, directed by its co-founder Ann Bettman. “When you fix stuff long enough, eventually they need you,” says Keeler, who continued to volunteer at the Urban Farm after graduation in 1994, then was hired as an adjunct instructor in 1996. “In 2007, Ann asked me to take over from her as director.” He also joined the board of the Willamette Farm & Food Coalition, promoting locally grown foods and wines, and he now serves as its president. “The university pays me to teach students how to grow their own food,” says Keeler, standing in front of the Urban Farm’s newest off-campus garden plot, along Columbia Street. “It’s an honor.”

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