Growing community in East Multnomah County
The Slavic gardeners grow lots of flowers in their plots. Some Bhutanese gardeners favor the super-hot peppers that flavor several of their traditional dishes and folks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo cultivate the medicinal herb mulunda, which can ease myriad ailments.
All these plants, plus corn, beans, eggplants, tomatoes, squash and more are thriving in the first planting of a new community garden on land owned by and just across the street from Adventist Health Portland at 10123 S.E. Market St.
"It's been a real joy," said Ed Hoover, Adventist's manager of wellness services.
Anyone can apply for a plot, but most of the gardeners are immigrants or refugees. There is a small fee for gardeners to cover the cost of water and other expenses.
Zawadi Baderha, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, tends to her flourishing crop of kale, sweet potatoes, yams, cauliflower and mulunda. Her pearly white eggplants look second to none.
With help from her youngest son, she explains that the plot is very important to her because it provides healthy, organic vegetables for her family of nine children and 13, soon to be 14, grandchildren.
"I have a big family," she said, smiling warmly.
Baderha has a small patch of soy beans and explained that they "fry them and eat them like peanuts, a snack."
She, like other gardeners from other countries also grow vegetables and herbs not readily available in American stores.
Kal Subba and his 13-year-old twin daughters, Bursha and Sital, from Bhutan, grow the ultra-hot peppers for their family's special dishes along with green mustard, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and more.
"We are happy to have the produce," Kal Subba said. "When we were in Bhutan, we never eat from the market. When we come here, all the vegetables and fruits' flavor is not like in my country."
The Subbas, who have been in the U.S. for a decade, live in an apartment with one small garden box for growing food.
By early August, the Subbas and Baderha had already harvested part of their bounty and replanted the newly empty space with fall crops.
This community garden features several raised beds so that disabled and elderly gardeners can easily grow fresh, organic vegetables.
But, there is value to the gardens beyond inexpensive, fresh produce.
"The idea of building community is what's really, really cool," said Adventist's Hoover. "It's a miracle to watch the community building. It's really a blessing."
The gardeners get "good nutrition, exercise, sunlight, fresh air. It's really healthy," he added.
The garden "gives people access to familiar foods and it builds community," he said. "It's really neat to see the gardeners learning from each other."
The garden fits with the spiritual principles of The Seventh-day Adventist Church. One of Adventists' beliefs is that God calls them to take care of their health, eat well, get fresh air, sunlight and exercise.
Volunteers helped prepare and set up the gardens, putting in infrastructure and sources of water. The hospital paid for the water meter, which cost around $11,000.
The Arc of Multnomah-Clackamas, a nonprofit serving children and adults who experience intellectual or developmental disabilities, also supports the garden.
The day-to-day management and expertise is provided by Gresham nonprofit Outgrowing Hunger, which helps provide reduced-cost garden plots, support and programming to under-served communities throughout East Multnomah County. The organization does not participate in the actual gardening.
Outgrowing Hunger manages 12 community gardens in Gresham and Portland, totaling over 7 acres and serving 450 families. The ground is provided by Adventist, the city of Gresham, Portland Parks & Recreation and others. More than 85% of the gardeners are refugees or immigrants from Asia, Africa, Central America and former Soviet-bloc countries.
Adam Kohl, executive director of Outgrowing Hunger, said that as important as the nutrition and inexpensive, healthy food is, the more important factor is the mental health benefits for the gardeners.
"When we talk to the gardeners, they say the leading reason they like the garden is that it makes them happy and reduces stress. They say 'this is our health center.'"
Kohl added "my heart is to help new arrivals to America. I want them to thrive. I want them to contribute culturally, civically and economically."
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