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Productive community garden gets a new face

As growing season arrives, garden organizers improve protections and aesthetic


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Teresa Knight, left, and Tracie Smith, right, hope to attract more student volunteers during the summer months for this years growing season. Despite the destructive tendencies of animals, vandals, thieves and harsh weather, the St. Helens Community Garden promises to continue to thrive.

With the growing season fast-approaching, garden organizers are shifting the focus of their volunteer force from strictly growing vegetables to building a community centered on health, art and food.

Garden curators are putting plans into action that will increase the size of the garden, provide greater protection for its valuable produce and beautify the property with local artwork.

Last year, a person or group of people stole the entire crop of corn and carrots just before harvest. Despite the setback, garden organizers still managed to donate more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to the Columbia Pacific Food Bank, all of which went directly into emergency food boxes at the HELP food pantry in St. Helens in 2012.

Home-gardeners within the community also donated an additional 7,000 pounds of fresh produce to the food bank.

“Every little bit helps because fresh produce is such an important part of a nutritious meal,” said Tracie Smith, executive director of the Columbia Pacific Food Bank. “The food programs throughout Columbia County rely on the fresh produce they receive from community and individual gardens.”

Local Artist Teresa knight is teaming up with members of the community and garden managers in order to build a fence around the garden that will act as both a deterrent to thieves and vandals, and also serve as a interactive artwork that will transform the garden into a stronger community center.

The grand-entrance to the garden is constructed of cob—an ancient building material consisting of sand, straw and clay. Knight and her crew of volunteers were able to finish the majority of their cob wall last summer, but persistent winter rains eroded the earthen plaster and, eventually, the wall itself, exposing a rough foundation of red Vernonia soil.

This year, Knight plans on using a mortar plaster and covering the entire 30-foot wall in mosaic tile-work. The remaining 600 feet of the fence will be constructed of wood-and-wire field fencing. The approximately 60 sections between fence posts will be filled with the work of local artists, Knight said.

The only requirements are that the sections must have an aesthetically pleasing and cohesive design that has been pre-approved by the fence committee, she explained.

Local businesses have already started sponsoring artists to design and install pieces on the fence.

The garden is coordinated completely by volunteers and more than 75 percent of the food produced in the plot is donated to the Columbia Pacific Food Bank and Community Meals. Community Meals runs year round every Tuesday and Thursday to serve dinner to families and individuals in need. Last year, Community Meals served 12,249 dinners.

For information on getting involved with the garden, contact Byron and Colleen Ohler at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For more information regarding the Art Fence, contact Teresa knight at 503-397-1807.