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Rockwood community garden brings neighbors together

Plots still available, including raised beds for handicapped gardeners


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jenny Holmes, left, and Katrina Haller of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon talk about ways a community garden is beneficial.Rockwood is both the poorest and most culturally rich neighborhood in Gresham. For those reasons, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and partners are working on a project that helps people in Rockwood learn to grow their own vegetables and prepare nutritious and inexpensive meals for their families.

The focal point of the project is the Sanctuary Community Garden, started about a year ago on the grounds of Anawim Christian Community Church on Northeast Glisan Street. A five-week class, “Seed to Supper: Growing Vegetables on a Budget,” began April 7 at the church and will be repeated again soon, Holmes said.

Seed to Supper is a program of Oregon Food Bank and Oregon State University Extension Service. According to its website at www.oregonfoodbank.org/seedtosupper, the class gives “novice, adult gardeners the tools they need to successfully grow a portion of their own food on a limited budget.” The classes are offered through host agencies in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark counties.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Katrina Haller, left, and Jenny Holmes recently waked in the rain through the Sanctuary Community Garden on Northeast Glisan Street.Anyone interested in getting notices of Seed to Supper or other upcoming classes should contact Food Justice coordinator Katrina Haller at 503-221-1054, ext. 215, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Haller is also the contact for garden plots.

Several small plots are still available, including two on raised beds that are ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) accessible. Cost of the plots is on a sliding scale from only $5 to $50 per year, and gardeners are required to help maintain common areas or do other volunteer tasks.

The garden was started late in the growing season last year, Holmes said, and includes 16 plots in the 40-by-60-foot garden, with two raised 8-by-2-foot beds that are handicapped accessible.

As Holmes and Haller conducted a tour of the garden in the rain last week, Holmes pointed to different areas, where rye grass serves as a cover crop in some plots.

“We are currently growing tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, cucumbers and sorrel,” she said.

Because the area is so culturally diverse, Holmes said people from different origins can share their gardening ideas as well as recipes.

“I have four Russian ladies who have several plots and two or three Spanish speakers,” she said. “Part of the reason for the garden is to promote intercultural understanding, trade cuisines and the different plants they grow.”

Cultural diversity is one of Rockwood’s greatest strengths, Holmes said, and she hopes the garden can even become an incubator for people to eventually get into the food business or urban farming.

“And when we learn to grow our food we appreciate it more,” she said.

Haller said she sees the garden as an extension of the community around it.

“We hope to see a community built from it,” she said. “Everyone has a right to nutritious, local healthy food, and this is a good step. It gives a deeper appreciation for the food we are eating, and it is also an outdoor activity.”

People have gotten on board with the garden for a variety of reasons, Haller said, some because they want to teach their children. Haller said she was thrilled when she saw one of the kids eating leaves off a kale plant.

Holmes said the support of Pastor Steve Kimes at Anawim Christian Community Church has been indispensible. Not only is the church supplying the land, it also allows use of its parking lot, kitchen and meeting rooms.

Kimes already has a garden on his 3 acres for the homeless people who make up the majority of his congregation.

“My ultimate goal is to turn all that land into a garden,” Kimes said. “We wanted to start out small and make sure every project we do is going to be something that sticks.”

The church has a vegetable garden and a meditation area for its homeless members, who number between 50 and 100 every Sunday, Kimes said. One of the reasons he let Ecumenical Ministries use the land is the hope that their an idea of an inclusive community will extend to homeless people.

“We want the community to get involved and see and get used to homeless people and find out they can be helpful and are here to help us out,” he said. “We’ve got tons of great people in our community and we just want them to connect with the border community, and this is one opportunity for us to do that.”

If all goes well this year, Kimes said the community garden could expand next year.

That will fit right in with Holmes’ goals — she sees the Sanctuary Community Garden as necessary for folks trying to stretch their budgets and eat healthy.

“Rockwood is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Multnomah County, with one in five people living below the poverty level,” she said.

Holmes cited a study by the Rockwood Neighborhood Assessment team that conducted surveys of 236 low-income people in English and Spanish in the fall of 2012. Almost all wanted places to get healthier food, she said.

Lots of volunteer help has gotten the community garden going, Holmes said, as well as grants from The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and the Church of the Brethren. Holmes said the garden is a joint project of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s Interfaith and Farms Partnership, Rockwood Community Food Justice and Anawim Christian Community. Support for classes also comes from the Kaiser Permanente Gives employee grant program, the Presbyterian Hunger Fund and the Jackson Foundation.