New community garden replaces the asphalt, at elementary school

Look at what happened – when, contrary to the Joni Mitchell song, they “pulled a paved parking lot and put up paradise” behind Vestal School! Find out who benefits from Portland’s 33rd Community Garden …

While Vestal Elementary Students get ready to plant their garden plots, Portland Parks & Recreation’s Director, Zari Santne, and Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, are all smiles as the dedication of the new small “urban farm” is about to get underway.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The Vestal Community Garden, Portland Parks & Recreation’s (PP&R) 33rd Community Garden, was unveiled a couple weeks ago – much to the delight of the kids and teachers – not to mention the neighbors – at Vestal Elementary School, located just north of E Burnside Street on SE 82nd Avenue of Roses.

Walking into the all-school assembly, Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish told the crowd that he thought it was a great project, for several reasons.

“First, creating more community gardens for Portlanders is one of my priorities as City Commissioner in charge of the Parks Bureau,” smiled Fish. “Also, this is an area that has been traditionally underserved. And, I’m especially pleased that this garden is attached to a school. This means that kids who go to school here will learn more about gardening, and get a real hands-on environmental education.

“Under Portland’s Climate Action Plan, championed by Mayor Sam Adams, the Parks Bureau has been charged to add 1,000 garden plots over the next three years,” Fish added. “And in immediate, human terms, the food harvested here will help people who might otherwise go hungry.”

Vestal Elementary School Principal Susan Foxman thanks all of the volunteers and City officials who pitched in to help turn part of th unused paved parking lot into a paradise.

Says garden is great 80th anniversary gift for school
In Vestal’s gymnasium, the school’s Principal, Susan Foxman, welcomed Commissioner Fish and PP&R’s Director, Zari Santner, to the school.

“Today, our dream for the Vestal Community Garden is coming true,” Principal Foxman began. “This garden started with a vision shared by students, teachers, parents and community members, to have a piece of land for planting, feeding, watering, and harvesting vegetables.”

Foxman said observed that one third of the garden plots will be dedicated to the school’s students and teachers; and, the other two thirds will be for community members who rent plots. “Here in the city, the Vestal Garden will allow children and community members to appreciate the planting cycle, repeated in nature with predictable rhythm.”

Noting that the school first opened its doors to students in 1929, Foxman said the institution is nearing its 80th anniversary. “How appropriate for us today, and in today’s recession, to expand the ways we educate our young people and the community about the satisfaction of growing one’s own food in a sustainable garden – cultivating the land, and harvesting the garden to the kitchen table.”

Zari Santner, Director of the City’s Parks Bureau, encourages the students to visualize all of the fresh food they’ll enjoy eating from their garden.

Parks director plants gardening ideas
PP&R’s executive director, Zari Santner, said she was pleased to be celebrating the sixth Portland community garden to be co-located at a school.

“Just imagine, students: This summer you could have beautiful red, juicy tomatoes that you have helped raise,” Santner told the kids. “You can have your own giant zucchini. Then, in the fall, you could have pumpkin and make your own jack-o’-lantern. And you can do it right here in your own school. Isn’t that great?”

As is his practice at such events, as the Parks Commissioner, Nick Fish “swears in” the student body of Vestal School as “Honorary Park Rangers”, pledging them to care for the garden.

Commissioner Fish pitches participation
During brief remarks in which Commissioner Fish related stories about his school-age children – and his wife, a schoolteacher – he challenged the Vestal students to help prepare and maintain the garden.

“A community garden not only helps create a healthy school, but it helps build a healthy community by bringing people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds together,” Fish said.

Community gardens grant writer, Lora Price, stands with the man whose vision created this particular garden, Vestal’s seventh-grade math and science teacher Chad Honl (holding bashful Liam).

Teacher drives garden grant effort
As the assembly wound down, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with Vestal seventh-grade math and science teacher, Chad Honl, credited as the driving force behind the garden.

“With the help of Lora Price, I helped write the grants and spearheaded the project over the last few years,” Honl said. “It was important for me to do this, because I have a passion for having locally-grown food and green spaces inside the city.”

Pointing out the illusive obvious, Honl continued, “Out here, along the 82nd Avenue of Roses, there is a real lack of green spaces. I wanted to change it.”

Congratulations, Mr. Honl, it appears as if you’ve done just that!

Students drew a flower, laminated it – and, after the assembly, decorated the fence surrounding the Vestal School Community Garden. This is Grace Bennet’s 4th and 5th grade class, busy at work.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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