Planting Seeds to Engage a Community

September 26, 2011 · by pcriadmin · PCRI

Nearly three years ago, George, a resident at PCRI’s Park Terrace apartments, delivered fresh greens to Resident Service Coordinator Amber Starks.  They may not have known it at the time, but the greens from George’s garden would grow into an opportunity to engage residents throughout PCRI’s community.

Rewind to the winter of 2009-2010 when George delivered his green gift.  Inspired by his beautiful, bountiful garden, Amber set out to create a space where all of the Park Terrace residents could grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“I thought it would bring out residents who were interested in gardening, who may have had a garden in the past, or were looking to do something different,” Amber said.

The 2010 garden was a bit of a challenge, she admits.  While a few residents expressed interest, poor soil in the new garden area and limited time to keep up with it meant weeds were about the only plants that prospered.  Amber resolved that 2011 would have a significantly better outcome.

“Since we didn’t have a great harvest or too much resident participation, I decided to get started on 2011 early.”

To attract help and involvement from the Park Terrace youth, Amber enlisted artist Dylan “Kauz” Freeman to create a mural.  During the fall of 2010, Dylan and the youth brainstormed ideas, made sketches and painted a mural about what a garden meant to them.  Their mural now overlooks the Park Terrace garden.

Park Terrace’s property management also joined in to make future gardens a success.  Using concrete that had been removed elsewhere on the property, they created raised beds—one for general resident use and one especially for George, upgrading the space in which he had been gardening for years.  The Park Terrace landscape maintenance crew added compost to improve the soil as well.

In the spring of 2011, volunteer Alison Coffinbarger applied her garden know-how in conjunction with starts and seeds generously donated by Portland Nursery.  Alison provided hands-on instruction for the residents, sharing information about soil preparation, composting, companion planting and more.  Every week, she would introduce the residents to two plants and offer tips on how to plant and care for them.

The instruction and extra effort paid off, especially with the cucumbers.  Park Terrace’s garden was so flush with cukes, a few of the residents took the bounty door-to-door, offering up their harvest to the resident seniors.  Other crops took a while longer (as with most Portland gardens this year, the tomatoes were late to ripen but are now offering their delicious fruit to residents’ kitchens).  Still, every planting offered at least a taste for the resident gardeners.

Participation increased as residents saw the harvest in Park Terrace’s community center and got involved in planting and maintaining the garden.  In addition, Amber is already planning the fall and winter garden with hardy crops like kale, collards and other greens.  She’s also looking even further down the garden rows toward a “planting to plate” experience where residents will learn how to garden and then learn from a chef how to cook what they grow in a variety of ways.

“My goal is also to empower residents to learn about the food they eat, how it grows and where it comes from and lastly how eating healthy can really improve quality of life,” she says. “It is also good to know that residents will have the skills to be able to garden wherever they go.”

Residents interested in participating in a community garden and community members interested in volunteering or donating can contact Amber Starks, Resident Services Coordinator, or Adriana Voss-Andrae, Healthy Foods Access Program Manager.

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