Art Fence project bundles adds eye-pleasing presence to community garden

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Certified master gardener Scott Bauska volunteers his time in the St. Helens Community Garden, weeding and amending two beds in order to plant winter root vegetables such as parsnips, rutabaga, beets and radishes. Bauska said six Master Gardeners from this years class have been volunteering at the St. Helens Community Garden.While the hot weather has been empowering some Columbia County residents to relax in the sun, others have been channeling their talents into building a community space in their spare time.

“This is my office,” declared local artist Teresa Knight as she lifted her arms underneath the artfully crafted grand entrance to the St. Helens Community Garden.

Knight has teamed up with community organizations to construct a fence that will protect the garden from deer and thieves while also transforming it into a stronger community center.

As Knight molds a wall into a portion of the perimeter fence and plans its mosaic design, community volunteers have been at work on the fence’s remaining sections.

Rather than running wire across the 600-foot fence, the approximately 60 sections between fence posts will be filled with the work of local artists by the end of August, Knight said. The first art panel—a mosaic crafted by St. Helens-based Riverside Industries—has already been completed, but more artists are encouraged to apply for their work to be featured on a section of the fence.

Joe Burks, treasurer of theSouth Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, said all artists interested in creating a piece for Art Fence will have their work reviewed by the chamber to be approved for artistic quality. Burks added that the chamber is looking for art, not advertising.

“You can’t just put ‘Bob’s Coffee’ or ‘Starbucks,’” he said. “We’re looking for local themes; the river, nature, maritime. The only limitation is that it’s not commercial.”

Knight began Art Fence last year, intending to build the grand entrance out of a sand, clay and straw mixture known as cob, but harsh winter weather has encouraged her to coat the earthen structure in mortar and plaster. Knight said after she finishes applying the roughing coat, she will add two more coats of plaster to smooth the structure.

Art Fence was made possible via a $1,500 grant acquired by Knight’s daughter, Stacie Knight, from the County Cultural Coalition. The grant was earmarked for materials to build the fence upon which art would be displayed.

Tracie Smith, executive director of the Columbia Pacific Food Bank, secured matching funds through the Oregon Food Bank.

“We needed more resources to complete the project, because of the additional requirements from the city and the time it took to reach an agreement,” Knight wrote.

More than 75 percent of the food grown within the garden is donated to 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. After losing much of the that season’s harvest to thieves, more than 1,000 pounds of food was donated to the food bank from the garden, Smith said. So far this season, about 200 pounds has been donated to the food bank, which Smith says puts them well ahead of last year’s numbers.

“When you’re on a fixed income, you often don’t get the nutritious food you need,” Smith said, explaining the value of fresh produce to the food bank. “When people drive by and see the community garden, it makes people consider the need.”

Knight and Smith said that although the garden is seeing more volunteers than any other year, they’re sill looking for eager community members who are willing to donate time in the garden and around the fence.

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

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