Bake sales and grants help volunteers reach for earth-friendly goal

If Tess Beistel could plant a garden in every community in Portland, she would. But since gardens can be expensive and time-consuming to maintain, she'll settle for 30.

The South Tabor resident and longtime garden designer wants to make this the year the community garden at Kellogg Middle School, 3330 S.E. 69th Ave., becomes a reality.

As a board member of the Friends of Portland Community Gardens, she's been raising money for the project for three years. She's written numerous grants, led sales of baked goods and greeting cards, and sought contributions from just about everyone she knows.

She and the 20 or so other volunteers pushing the effort have a long way to go. They've raised $8,000 toward the project but need a total of about $35,000. It's not uncommon for similar projects to take years, depending on how quickly fund raising and grants come together.

Beistel holds out hope that a miracle will happen and the group will get other individuals and businesses to pitch in.

'If this garden happened in 2005, it would make the 30th in the system,' she said. 'And next year is the 30th anniversary of community gardens (in Portland). It would be the grooviest thing to have the 30th in the 30th year.'

Advocates see a multitude of benefits of community gardens: They preserve open space in the city, encourage organic gardening and provide access to fresh, healthy food. And they donate 10,000 pounds of fresh vegetables each year to emergency food pantries through the Oregon Food Bank.

'To me, a community garden is like apple pie. How could you argue with it?' Beistel says. 'It's just everything we say we want in a culture.'

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees Portland's sustainable development efforts, also wants to see community gardens proliferate. He led a push in November to begin studying plots of city-owned land that might be suitable for community gardens and other agricultural uses.

That effort hasn't yet begun, but Leslie Pohl-Kosbau, who helped start the city's community garden program in 1975 and still manages it today, is eager to see it happen.

The benefits of having a garden on public land, she says, include longevity and better communication with the city's parks bureau, which is responsible for maintaining the community gardens. Two-thirds of the gardens are now on public land, including at schools, parks and former pump stations.

Community grows, too

When the envisioned 21,600-square-foot Kellogg Garden is complete, Beistel says, it will offer at least 20 400-square-foot garden plots to community members. It will include four raised handicap-accessible garden beds, a tool shed and a native plant area.

Donations of materials for a cyclone fence, the raised beds and a pathway system would be particularly welcome, Beistel says.

In the summer, she says, the garden will bear fruits, vegetables and flowers as well as birdhouses and a wildlife habitat for native plants and possibly even bats. In the winter, she hopes neighbors will gather at the garden for work parties to weed and mulch.

'Any community garden changes the neighborhood, because it creates a very juicy use of open space,' Beistel says. 'People from the community will have plots in the garden. They'll be there talking to each other. What it does is weave together the neighborhood and keeps activities happening at the school year-round.'

In particular, Beistel says, the Kellogg Garden will be at an ideal location because it's a wide-open field with the perfect amount of sunlight and a good deal of space, without reducing the play area at the school. It also will serve a low-income neighborhood that has a lot of apartment dwellers with no such garden nearby.

Good soil takes investment

What's so expensive about creating a garden?

Pohl-Kosbau, who serves on the board of the American Community Garden Association, says the costs add up: Utilities, maintenance and administration of a garden take about $6,600 a year; other costs include irrigation, fencing, soil work, pathways and a community area. This usually includes raised beds, a shed, benches and tables. The exact costs depend on how elaborate a particular garden is and how much work needs to be done to improve the soil.

The costs are worth it, advocates say, and Portland is evolving into a Mecca of community gardens.

Coming up on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5, Portland Community Gardens and Portland State University will host a leadership training session, 'Growing Communities,' for gardeners from around the region to learn how to build and support their gardens.

Portland will host a state summit March 12 for all Oregon community garden advocates to exchange ideas.

Three community gardens were created here in 2004:

• The Pier Garden, at North Portland's Pier Park, was planted with the help of the nonprofit organization Host Development, which recently completed the Charleston Place affordable housing complex.

• The Sellwood Garden, at an old city pump station, sprung from an ardent group of organizers who received the needed $20,000 from Portland Parks & Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Services.

• The Rigler Garden, at Northeast Portland's Rigler Elementary School, will open officially this spring after four years of work by a core group of volunteers. Will Levenson, who spearheaded the effort, said it received a total of about $85,000 in in-kind donations, private donations and various grants.

Another garden is slated to be built in May at North Portland's McCoy Park as part of the New Columbia Hope 6 project, managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Costs were picked up by the Hope 6 project.

Anne Storrs, an avid gardener who's been supporting the Kellogg Garden efforts, says she hopes the trend continues to flourish as more people from diverse backgrounds call Portland their home.

'There's a universal quality about the garden,' she says. 'It could be like a quilt almost in a way. You have all these potentially different languages, different plots that represent different cultures and different approaches to gardening. I think there's just this miniworld going on there in the garden.'

A Valentine's Day card sale to benefit the Kellogg Garden will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 12 and Feb. 13 at Portland Nursery, 5050 S.E. Stark St.

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