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Main Garden Taking root

Taking root

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Written by Hannah Wallace   
Monday, June 25, 2012

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Above: Steve Knudson, garden manager at Colonel Summers community garden in Portland, and Lalena Dolby take a break from  planting.

Below: Colonel Summers, which was planted in 1980, is one of Portland's oldest community gardens.

// Photos by Carl Kiilsgaard

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The community garden on the eastern edge of Southeast Portland’s Colonel Summers Park is a sight to behold — especially this time of year. Nearly an acre, it overflows with Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, fava beans, purple kale, blueberries, and strawberries. It has edged walkways and intricate trellises for green beans and raspberry canes; an enormous pear tree, two plum trees; and daffodils, dahlias and roses. And the garden boasts something else that you may not notice on first biking past: a core group of volunteers.

It’s no wonder people are lining up to garden at Colonel Summers. Nearly 200 people were on the wait list this past spring, according to Laura Niemi, the community gardens program coordinator at Portland Parks & Recreation. This is not unusual for community gardens in inner Portland, where demand for plots is at an all-time high. As of late May, only five of the city’s 45 gardens had plots available: Clarendon, Errol Heights, McCoy, Pier and Portsmouth. The city, as part of its big push to create 1,000 new garden plots by the end of the year, just opened five new gardens; only three of them have spaces left. Interest in community gardens has exploded in recent years — and not just in Portland. According to Ian Dixon-McDonald, who runs the Marion-Polk Food Share’s community garden program, there are 27 community gardens in the Salem-Kaiser area, quadruple the number there were in 2008. “When the season hits, they are pretty much all full,” says Dixon-McDonald.

Corvallis, which has four community gardens all located in city parks, is about to publish a community garden master plan that identifies 14 potential additional sites. (The city and the Benton County Health Department just received a $360,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to increase access to healthy food in South Corvallis and rural Benton County.)

The city of Eugene’s Parks & Open Spaces department has a wait list for all six of its gardens, and in Bend, which has just one community garden run by its parks and rec department, there are plans afoot to break ground on new gardens in the next two years.