Growing your own food is so satisfying, and in the midst of a struggling economy, it just makes sense. Why spend a bundle on vegetables and herbs at the grocery store when you can grow your own for a fraction of the cost? But not everyone has the space or enough sun to plant a garden at home. This is where community gardens come in, renting plots to people who have the will to garden but not the land. Last weekend, while on assignment for a writing project, I visited the Gabriel Park Community Garden in Southwest Portland. I expected to see vegetable starts and sprouting seeds thriving in freshly planted beds.
I didn’t expect the garden to be so pretty, sprawling like a green patchwork quilt across a sunny slope. Each plot is unique. Some have raised beds with evenly spaced rows, while other gardeners have clearly taken a more free form approach. Some have figured out that you make the most of the space by growing things upward on trellises.
Throughout Portland, the city provides land for 32 community gardens, most located at or near city parks. When it began in 1975, the community gardens program had just three gardens. One of them was Gabriel Park’s. As a result, many gardeners there have had their plots for years and years. According to Portland Community Gardens Manager Leslie Pohl-Kosbau, interest in renting plots has skyrocketed in the past couple of years. Twelve hundred people are currently on the waiting list.
The Community Garden program is designed to be very affordable, giving people with low and fixed-incomes an opportunity to grow their own food. Renting a full-size 20′ X 20′ (400 square foot) plot is just $75 per year, while a half-sized 10′ x 20′ plot is $38. Community gardens are ideal for seniors who may have down-sized to apartments or retirement communities, for families living in apartments, or people who for other reasons lack the space or right conditions for a garden at home. I met, for example, a man who lives in a condo with his wife.
They share a 20′ x 20′ plot with a couple whose home is shaded by fir trees. The four of them grow more food than they can eat, so they give what they can’t use to a local food pantry.
During my visit, I saw a mom gardening with her small child. I saw two retired women sitting and talking among tall flowers, and I saw and talked to several people gardening alone. Of course, they weren’t really alone. They were chatting and sharing tips with each other.
That’s what a community garden is all about. It’s really something to see.
### Erika is a writing mom. She lives in Milwaukie and teaches writing and communication courses at the University of Portland.