A garden struggling to grow

Jeff Samuels is a perfect example of Portland State’s vision of community and sustainability. Last fall, he was elected PSU Community Garden Coordinator and immediately stepped into the role.

His mission: revitalize the neglected PSU Community Garden, the only community garden in downtown Portland. The garden, located across the street from Epler Hall, has been on campus for 30 years, but had fallen into disrepair and was in desperate need of love and special attention.

In the past nine months, Samuels, a senior studying Arts and Letters at Portland State, has spent countless hours working with PSU faculty, students and outside community resources to pull together a plan of action for the garden’s revitalization.

Creating a sustainable community garden at PSU has been a lot of work, with its share of setbacks. Last winter, the Adeline Building, located next to the gardens, was torn down making it possible for the garden to expand. During the deconstruction of the Adeline, crushed concrete and other materials damaged the garden, breaking an agreement that Samuels had made with the construction supervisor.


Community gardens around Portland
There are over 20 community gardens in the Portland area. Here are a few close to downtown.

Buckman Garden, S.E. 18th Avenue and Oak Street

Clinton Garden, S.E. 18th Avenue and Clinton Street

Col. Summers Garden, S.E. 20th Avenue and Taylor Street

Sellwood Garden, S.E. 21st Avenue and Harney Street

Front and Curry Garden, S.W. Front Avenue and Curry Street
Everett Garden, N.E. 27th Avenue and Everett Street

Sabin Garden, N.E. 19th Avenue and Skidmore Street

“It was like playing a bad game of telephone,” he recalled. “This experience showed me that students need direct communication with the people in charge.”

After the dust settled, the garden was restored. Some of the leftover building materials will be used to improve the garden.

Samuels has also been working to convince the PSU administration that the cost of the garden, which could top $25,000, is worth the expense. He has been working closely with garden suppliers as well as Auxiliary Services from PSU to find ways to keep costs low.

Samuels became garden coordinator to improve the resources available for PSU students to grow their own food. Plots will first go to students living at PSU; the remainder will be open to the student body. He is a member of the Residence Life Association (RHA), a group that works to improve the quality of life for PSU students living on campus.

The RHA office is in the Montgomery Building, which does not offer kitchen facilities for its residents. The Montgomery Building is one example of the importance for the garden at PSU, Samuels says. He sees it as essential for students and hopes to see them utilize the garden to learn healthier eating habits.

“This provides students with a way to learn how to feed themselves,” Samuels explained. “My goal is to get people in the garden to teach them how to garden. People always come up and tell me how they’d love to learn to grow food, but don’t know how. There is no experience necessary, so no matter where someone goes they can grow their own food.”

Samuels has formed a group of 10 garden members to help complete the project. They plan to teach classes in basic gardening skills: soil, compost, upkeep, tools, how to grow plants, and other sustainability techniques utilizing the teaching space in the garden. The garden will house 80-90 plots, with plans of expansion in the future.

Samuels’s gardening experience dates back to third grade, when he spent his school breaks working in his aunt and uncle’s nursery in Boise, Idaho. Later, he spent time at a nursery in Hawaii where, among other things, he learned to grow bamboo. He plans to use this experience to build a bamboo wall around the PSU Community Garden. It will be used as a sound and pollution barrier to block the freeway that runs along one side.

Samuels has been committed to making the garden as accessible as possible for everyone. His plans to include special accommodations for people with disabilities, including raised beds and paved pathways, above the requirements set by the law. The projected cost of making the garden accessible is $10,000 to $12,000, but Samuels is also looking into using materials left over from other PSU building projects to reduce the cost.

Art will cover the blank concrete wall on the freeway side of the garden. After a law passed banning murals, the one originally in the garden was painted over. Now that it is legal, Samuels plans to have it repainted along with other art and sculpture on display in the garden. There needs to be more student art on permanent display, he said.

Next year, Samuels plans to remain involved with the garden but not as coordinator. He plans to apply for a resident assistant position in college housing.

For more information, or to become involved, contact Samuels at [email protected].