Community gardens in the City of Roses

With the advent of spring, Portland State offers students a chance to test their green thumb. Located on Southwest 12th Avenue and Montgomery Street, across the street from Stephen Epler Hall, PSU’s community garden allows residents and students the joys and experiences of gardening.

“The weather’s beautiful, and I think that [gardening] is a nice way to get out,” said Hannah Johnson, a resident assistant who is helping to organize one of the plots in PSU’s community garden. “It’s a good way to pause from everyday life, because when you’re gardening, you’re closer to nature.”

The community garden, provided by the Residence Housing Association, offers on-campus residents the opportunity to plant, foster and harvest vegetables and fruits throughout the year. PSU’s community garden boasts over 40 plots, which generally consist of 40 to 60 square feet per plot. The garden also is home to a community Native Garden, a sandbox for children to play in, a tool shed, and a patio area for barbecuing and relaxation. Students who tend the community garden are encouraged to plant whatever they would like, as long as it is non-invasive and does not easily spread out of control.

Georgi Ryan, the PSU community garden coordinator, said that besides providing a break from the city, the garden offers benefits for the gardeners and provides a sustainable option that is usually not available in an urban setting.

“It’s a great place to be around, either [to] socialize or be by yourself and study,” Ryan said. “It’s a great spot, especially with the urban environment. You can get caught up in it, and it can really affect you emotionally and just the way you act towards people. I think having a garden is a really important thing.”

The benefits of a community garden aren’t unique to the PSU campus—they extend to the rest of Portland as well.

“We see [community gardens] as an opportunity for people to get outside and be active, engage in a recreational activity,” said Laura Niemi, the community garden program coordinator at Portland Parks and Recreation. “Community gardens give people an opportunity to get fresh air and exercise and grow food.”

The community garden at PSU is one of several throughout Portland. Parks and Recreation has nearly 50 gardens in their program, in addition to community gardens operated by churches, non-profits and other independent groups. However, depending on location, involvement in a garden plot could require a waiting list of up to three years.

“There’s a fair amount of unmet demand within the city of Portland, at least in our program,” Niemi said. “So there’s definitely potential to grow.”

Part of the popularity of plots in a garden is the sense of mutuality it provides.

“What we are trying to achieve is a garden that encourages non-experienced gardeners and experienced gardeners, because few people understand how easy a garden can be, and an important point of a community garden is to make communication between the two possible,” Ryan said.

“They [community gardens] are an asset for the community,” Niemi said. “The garden is a great place for residents to come together and talk about issues facing their neighborhood, get to know each other, and just have a positive presence in the community.”

Referencing an article in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening by Guitart and others from 2012, Olyssa Starry, an urban ecologist in the Honors Program at PSU, emphasizes the benefits of community gardening include social development, financial perks, better health and diet, and enhancement of cultural backgrounds and biodiversity.

Parks and Recreation takes many of these factors into account when building a community garden.

“I consider community gardens part of the urban environment,” Starry said. “Even though community gardens can by highly controlled and maintained, ecological patterns and processes are still at play in these systems. We have a lot more to learn about how various garden designs relate to ecological functioning.”

“I think that it’s a cultural thing, that our generation has just moved away from [gardening],” said Ryan, regarding the impact urbanization has had on gardening.

She further explained that some things can’t be taught through modern devices such as the Internet, and instead can be found in the collaboration she witnesses in the
community garden.

“My favorite part is the learning that happens through communal effort,” she said. “It’s a great experience, and I think everyone should have a part of it. I want people to feel as connected to their gardens as I feel with this one.”

Plots are assigned on a revolving timeline, and generally involve a waiting list. More information can be found on the Residence Hall Association website, or by contacting the garden coordinator at
[email protected].