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Urban orchard will grow at Eastham Building

Community orchard a project of Oregon City Local Harvest
by: ellen sPITALERI Gabrielle Chavez relaxes by the flagpole at Eastham School; she is seeking volunteers to help plant an orchard at the site on April 2.

Where some see only a patch of grass in front of the Eastham School in Oregon City, Gabrielle Chavez sees an orchard; and now she is looking for volunteers to make that orchard happen on April 2.

Chavez, the founder of Oregon City Local Harvest 2020, said volunteers of any age and skill level are welcome to show up in front of the school at 10 a.m. that day and help plant donated fruit trees and shrubs.

Chavez lives in the Eastham neighborhood, and said she's been eyeing the sunny, gentle slope of land near the flagpole, right along 7th Avenue in front of the school.

She contacted Lisa Normand, the administrator of the Oregon City Community Education Program that is based at Eastham, and found her receptive to the idea of a community garden on the spot. Normand gathered support from the Oregon City School District and the building maintenance person, and gave Chavez the green light to plan the garden.

Everyone was especially pleased, Chavez noted, when 'we told them we'd install it, maintain it and take responsibility for it.'

Then Chavez and two other Local Harvest members, Janine Offutt and Lisa Clifton, developed a site plan and began looking around for community partners.

'One Green World is giving us 10 blueberry shrubs and 12 trees, including apples, Asian pears, plums, a cherry tree and a fig tree. Jerry Herrmann, of Earth Crusaders, donated five fruit trees, and Portland Nursery donated asparagus seeds,' Chavez said. She added that other fruit-bearing plants include a grapevine, raspberries and evergreen huckleberries.

She added that she is currently seeking donations of barkdust to use as mulch for the blueberries.

The Eastham site has one huge advantage in that it is 'so visible; thousands of people drive by,' Chavez said, adding that her overall goal is to 'show people it is possible' to plant their own gardens on their own property or in their neighborhoods.

Low maintenance

'We selected a variety of low-maintenance plants, that won't need watering after the first season, except for the blueberries. And there is something about fruit that tempts people and children. These trees are going to be there for 20 to 40 years and they will blossom and bear fruit - they are the gift that keeps on giving,' Chavez said.

'We want the community to own it - we want people to harvest the fruit and help weed. We need people to dig up sod and spread soil amendments and plant,' she added.

'I completely support our community growing efforts and our local farmers, and it is hugely important to give good, healthy vegetables to our kids. Schools are working hard to have sustainable gardens on site, and we want to cultivate that in our community. If the kids are here during picking season they can help harvest the fruit, as can the neighbors who live near here,' Normand noted.

Volunteers

Chavez would like to see lots of volunteers show up on April 2, and noted that there will be plenty of other work parties once the site is planted.

'This is something positive you can do for your community and you can learn how to do this in your own yard. We want to empower people with land to grow things themselves,' she said.

Chavez said she founded Oregon City Local Harvest 2020 with the mission 'to grow an abundance of food wherever we can, on public and private spaces, so by the year 2020, food will be everywhere.'

A little more than a year ago, she and her neighbors created The Wedge, a triangular community garden at the intersection of 9th and Division.

'It has been so encouraging - there has been no vandalism and no trash. The figs and raspberries have borne fruit and the neighbors are delighted,' Chavez said.

She added that working on community gardens is a 'positive action in place of fear, worry and stress about the economy. We have a number of unemployed people who work with us, and it gives them self esteem - we are creating value.'

Fast Facts

Help plant an orchard at the Eastham School, 1404 7th St. in Oregon City

Meet in front of the flagpole on Saturday, April 2, at 10 a.m.

Official groundbreaking ceremony at noon, Mayor Doug Neeley will attend.

Bring water, gloves, shovels and other tools - all ages and skill levels welcome

For more information, call Gabrielle Chavez

Visit: http://www.meetup.com/Oregon-City-Local-Harvest-2020/