Grow Portland is an organization with a heart of gold: it wants to feed the hungry. It’s dedicated to producing community gardens in the name of urban food production. In June 2017, it released a Community Garden Expansion report that listed seven prospective “high-quality project” sites in east Portland. Since the summertime, a few of them have seen advances.
The seven top choices––narrowed down from a cohesive comparison of 85 potential city and east Portland school district-owned locations––were chosen by Grow Portland based on their logistical ecology and proximity to low-income families within diverse ethnic communities. The sites primed for potential gardens according to the report include: Lynch Wood Elementary, Mill Park, Glenfair Park, Lynchview Park, Gates Park Property, and North and West Powellhurst parks.
Grow Portland has friends in high places, and it’s partnered with the city, which can execute some of these findings. For example, Portland Parks and Recreation broke ground on Wood Community Garden, to be located at Lynch Wood Elementary School (also known as Wood Elementary) in July, immediately following the report. The garden has a budget of $80,000. It’s being paid for through funding from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, the Richard and Helen Phillips Charitable Fund and the City of Portland. The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District is another partner of Grow Portland, in addition to the Oregon Food Bank and the East Portland Action Plan. “The garden will open Feb. 24, and it will provide another exciting venue for Portlanders to grow healthy, organic produce!” says Laura Niemi, the program coordinator for the Community Gardens Program for Portland Parks and Recreation. “The Centennial School District, in partnership with Portland Parks and Recreation’s Community Gardens Program, will convert 30,000 square feet of unused land into a garden that will provide space for 50 or more families to grow food.”
Mill Park, another contender in the top seven choices, achieved a final Master Plan involving the development of a community garden this past summer. The City Council voted to adopt it in November, though the funds to implement the plan and construct a park and garden are still out of sight. “The Master Plan adoption is a very important first step in planning, so that when funding is in place, we may move forward as the community desires and in an efficient way,” says Niemi.
There’s also been tentative movement on Lynchview Park. Portland Parks and Recreation has been conducting community meetings on Lynchview to identify public priorities for the property. A community garden is one of the options for the site, but its fate remains up in the air pending ongoing public meetings.
Like anything else manufactured by the city, even the most altruistic schemes, like plotting community gardens, take time and patience. The process changes based on who owns the property. For instance, the Wood Community Garden is on land belonging to the Centennial School District, rather than Portland Parks and Recreation. It’s possible that this has accelerated construction.
Once a site is identified for a community garden, landowner permission must be secured. “In the case of gardens proposed on Portland Parks and Recreation property, we work with our staff to confirm that a community garden is an approved use and doesn’t conflict with any established plans for the property. Once we have landowner approval, staff develop community partnerships and conduct a public process to establish community support and demand for a community garden. Then we develop a conceptual garden design and a project budget, which we use to secure funding for the garden,” explains Niemi.
Finally, there comes funding and a final stamp of approval from Portland Parks and Recreation before construction commences. In 2018, Portland Parks and Recreation will open two new gardens: Luuwit View Community Garden, as part of the new Luuwit View Park (Northeast 134th and Shaver Street), and Wood Community Garden; these will become Portland Parks and Recreation’s 53rd and 54th community gardens, respectively.
According to Niemi, the average community garden can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $80,000 to construct. Most gardens are funded by grants and in part by funds allocated straight out of the city budget. Garden plot prices range from $15 a pop for 50 square feet up to $200 for an 800-square-foot plot. Low-income individuals, as well as families, can reach out for scholarship assistance. Scholarship assistance can cover up to 100 percent of a given plot fee.
Community gardens are fresh in demand for city planners, given Portland’s growing refugee and ethnic minority population, which is predominantly situated in the east. “We have seen a strong demand for community gardens from the immigrant and refugee communities in Portland. Engaging them is an outstanding way to connect newcomers with Portland, the United States and city services and offerings. We may not often think about it, but many people new to this country come from places where they are not accustomed to willingly engaging in activities with their governments—or it may not be safe to do so. We provide safe and welcoming spaces, a sort of gateway into our city and Portland government. Our community gardens provide plots of land to interested community members who grow fresh, healthy food for themselves and their families. They are a place for all people to grow cultural foods, improve mental and physical health through gardening in nature and connect and build relationships with other community members who share common interests,” says Niemi.
Gardens can produce annual vegetables such as greens, tomatoes, corn, beans and cucumbers. They’re also good for small fruits like strawberries and raspberries. While the gardens aren’t open to community harvesting, many of their gardeners spread the wealth to the community through partnerships with organizations like Grow Portland.
Grow Portland has a direct impact, even if it’s through indirect action. “Produce from our community gardens is shared via the gardeners and participating organizations,” explains Jean Zondervan, a Staff Member for Grow Portland. “For example, Parkrose United Church of Christ has been sharing the produce from their plots at our Eastminster Community Garden with [community charity] SnowCap, and in other ways with immigrant populations and limited-income populations. We provide the garden space adequate to grow produce to share, but distribution is done by gardeners and organizations participating in these gardens.”
You can access a complete list of plot sizes and fees and learn more about the Community Gardens Program on the Portland Parks and Recreation website at portlandoregon.gov/parks/39846.