Cooperative garden nurtures community
A new community garden in Rockwood will grow fresh produce for Gresham, East Portland families
In one corner there's the Rosewood Café, home to the Rosewood Initiative, an effort to create a healthy community in the notoriously high-crime, high-poverty Rockwood neighborhood.
At the peak there's Oliver Elementary School, where SUN Community Schools (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) helps neighborhood kids and families.
Down the line there's Lynwood Friends Church, active in outreach efforts.
Now, in the middle of the triangle on Southeast 162nd Avenue near Stark Street, there's a community garden - more accurately a cooperative garden seeking helping hands, said Adam Kohl, founder of Outgrowing Hunger, the central organization that brought the community groups together.
'This is 90 percent community, 10 percent garden,' Kohl said. 'Poverty is social isolation. This solves social isolation, food access, economic opportunity ... and a whole host of other problems.'
The garden fell into place as Outgrowing Hunger tied together the six degrees of separation-style connections working in Gresham and East Portland.
Through various introductions, Kohl became acquainted with SUN, Rosewood, Lynwood and We Are Oregon, an organization that has worked in the area on foreclosure rates, economic opportunity and food access, starting a food buying club.
'All these groups had this idea, and I said, 'Well, that's what I do,'' Kohl said. 'I told them it takes a year to plan a community garden. ... That was in April.'
Organizations and their volunteers got excited and ran with the project. Within a month, Outgrowing Hunger holds a (free) lease on the church's centrally located land, fat rows are tilled and plant starts are in the ground. By July they'll have food to harvest - enough for up to 25 families.
'This (community garden) project is popular in white, upper-class communities. That's where it happens, but that's not where it's needed,' said Bill Moormann, pastor for Lynwood Friends Church for nearly 14 years. 'It's needed where people need the fresh produce, (where) they need the community.'
When Kohl lost his longtime job last year, it was a blessing in disguise.
He wasn't happy there. He thought for a while about what would make him happy.
'I realized I had the freedom to pursue a passion for a while,' Kohl said.
With enough in the bank to live on for a couple years, Kohl combined his love of gardening with his fury over food injustice - the cheapest and worst foods are the most affordable and accessible, leading to a host of problems in poor populations.
Kohl started Outgrowing Hunger, an effort to establish food equality, starting with Rockwood.
'I want something like this to be within walking distance of every residence in East County,' Kohl said, 'but we have to do it well.'
He sees cooperative gardens as ultimately achieving all the supporting organizations' goals: create a sense of community, improve health, better quality of life.
'The long-term idea is a self-supporting, self-sustaining group that I can walk away from,' he said. 'A permanent fixture in the community.'
Volunteers are embracing his vision.
Moe Farhoud, an active Rosewood Initiative volunteer who owns Stark Firs apartments, installed a water spigot in his apartment building overlooking the garden, and is donating the first year of water.
Each week volunteers from various organizations meet in the garden to tend to it.
'I want to see more community gardens in this area,' said Mabel Pool, an 85-year-old We Are Oregon volunteer from Gresham who was planting vegetables Thursday morning, May 17. 'More people need to see the joy of gardening. It's just like seeing your little ones grow. ... It's a spiritual experience in a way.'
Keith Young, a We Are Oregon volunteer who lives just a few blocks east of the garden, said he sees the garden as a way to build community the old-fashioned way.
'We've lost community connections. We need to get back to that,' Young said, gesturing to the rows he helped till. 'We'll start out small, make it pretty, and then we'll grow it.'
Kohl wants to keep the garden open for community enjoyment. 'This is an open-air garden right now,' he said. They'll add security measures as needed, but 'I don't want to start out with a fence.'
Meanwhile, a management contract with the city of Gresham to maintain the Central City Garden, 840 N.E. Eighth St., keeps Outgrowing Hunger afloat; Kohl's 401(k) is his salary, as it will stay until he finds other sources of revenue. 'I'd like donations from the neighborhood to go to the garden,' he said.
And his pursuit of passion seems to be paying off.
'The ripples through the community are already happening,' Moormann said. 'People are out here. They're looking at this path out here, saying, 'Hey, we could clean that up.''
The community garden is in need of helping hands and donations. It needs a shed, tools and gardening supplies as well as monetary donations to purchase needed supplies.
A calendar of garden work times is available at OutgrowingHunger.org, under the 'volunteer' link.