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Grow Portland looks for new urban space to plant local gardens

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Volunteer Ron Glenville works in Grow Portlands Eastminster Community Garden in outer East Portland.  Portland is known for its plethora of gardens and fresh food lovers, but this isnt the farmers market crowd. Here, refugees and low-income families are empowered to grow their own and provide for themselves.   If life serves up lots of butternut squash, store it and make butternut squash soup all winter.

That’s the thinking behind the 100-pound “storage shares” offered by the nonprofit Grow Portland, a group that builds garden space for low-income residents in East Portland.

Volunteers at the Eastminster Community Garden (Northeast 125th Avenue and Halsey Street) last week harvested a whopping 2,000 pounds of butternut squash, which is sitting in crates, soon to be joined by other winter veggies such as potatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips and garlic.

Early November, the veggies will be available as 100-pound storage shares for $120, intended for use during the winter.That’s not the only way Grow Portland hopes to change the world through gardens.

In a city that’s gaga for growing fresh food, Grow Portland is adding some serious potatoes to the stew of garden space. In 3 1/2 years, the group built 200 community garden plots at three sites, two of which were fully booked within months (the third, East County Community Garden, 24375 S.E. Stark St. in Gresham, has 14 available sites).

Grow Portland is working on expanding its capacity for supersized plots, which are called “urban agriculture,” with plots around three times as large as that of community gardens.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Volunteer Rodney Law does a little fall cleanup at Eastminster Garden, a partnership with Parkrose Community United Church of Christ. The church houses a homeless shelter run by Human Solutions, and use the garden space to grow more than 3,000 pounds of food for the needy each year.  Like the Eastminster site — developed next to a Bi-Mart, on a vacant lot where weeds had grown for about 50 years — urban agriculture sites are typically developed on little-used land. And they have cropped up in Portland and cities nationwide in recent years.

A separate Portland nonprofit called Urban Farm Collective has developed 17 urban agriculture sites throughout Northeast and Southeast Portland, ranging from 1,000 to 26,000 square feet. Landowners “share” their land so it can be converted to a neighborhood food garden.

Grow Portland Director David Beller says his organization is systematic about laying a grid of large growing sites.

“Our vision is that we could have maybe 10 acres of urban agriculture plots within the city,” he says. “It would really dramatically increase the volume of food that is grown in the city.”

Grow Portland’s latest effort is a pilot project with a nonprofit called Outgrowing Hunger, which helps people in poverty access healthy food. The two groups are working to create an urban agriculture site as large as two acres — four times the size of the Eastminster garden.

They’re joining up with Lynnwood Friends Church, 835 S.E. 162nd Ave., to build out an existing garden. But, like growing, it’s a painstakingly slow process.

“We’re trying to identify land, develop partnerships with landowners,” Beller says. “There’s a need to be cautious with how to use the land. Then we have to raise the funds.”

Global gardens

To say there’s a lot of interest in community garden space is an understatement. Demand to grow one’s own food in Portland has never been higher.


• A thousand people are on waiting lists for the city of Portland’s 2,100 community garden plots at 50 separate sites.

• About 200 cyclists participated in Pedalpalooza’s bike tour this past summer to promote five urban farms in Northeast Portland.

• More than 15 local nonprofits and businesses host an array of garden classes and workshops in Portland this time of year. Grow Portland keeps a centralized list:

Nowadays, the 100-plot Eastminster Garden — a partnership with the Eastminster Church — hosted a bounty of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, mustard greens and winter greens.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Grow Portlands Eastminster Community Garden has produced thousands of pounds of vegetables for local volunteers. The garden is one of several the nonprofit group is tending as part of its Outgrow Hunger program.Two-thirds of the Eastminster gardeners — and many more at community gardens citywide — are immigrants and refugees to Portland, who often land in East Portland without much except the knowledge of how to grow their own food.

A larger space will allow them to feed large families, preserve food and sell it within their community if they so choose.

“A lot of refugees don’t speak English, don’t have a lot of work experience, don’t even have a high school education,” says Beller. “It’s a huge education coming to this country and getting established. The gardens are really a way to help them have a positive outlet that’s productive for their families and the broader community, to stay healthy, have a steady stream of healthy food.”

Jean Zondervan, Grow Portland’s community gardens coordinator, says she’s continually impressed with the diversity in the gardens. She says there are eight nationalities represented, including large numbers of Burmese, Laotians and people from the former Soviet Union. Many grow vegetable varieties from their home countries.

“I grew up on a farm in Minnesota,” she says, “but I don’t know what’s being grown there.”

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