Parkrose Heights church prepares garden to help feed hungry

Not all “community garden” projects are City-based. Learn why – and how – members of Parkrose United Methodist Church ripped up their lawn to provide garden space …

One of the men behind the project, Robb Eaton, “busts sod” to make way for a new community garden.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The pastor and parishioners of Parkrose United Methodist Church have long been known for their volunteer efforts, including building homes across East Portland with Habitat for Humanity.

So, when we heard that Pastor Bill Gates, and a handful of volunteers, were ripping up the beautiful lawn at their Parkrose Heights church to make way for a community garden, we had to go take a look.

The idea came about, Gates explained, from wondering how their expanse grass-landscaped property could be put to better use. “At one time, I hoped that we can build an affordable housing project, the zoning requirements were just too onerous. So we decided to make a 7,000 ft.² plot turn into a garden. This section is flat, open and accessible.”

A volunteer-inspired project
A project of this magnitude takes the leadership of those from within the congregation, Gates pointed out. “We have some people who are real interested and excited about gardening. And, the ‘food security’ issue within our community is real. It’s a win-win-win-win situation all the way around.”

Gates pointed out volunteer Robb Eaton as one of the project’s “prime movers”, and introduced us to him, when he took a break from running the sod cutter.

“I won’t say I came up with the idea of making a community garden,” Eaton said. “But I’ve been a part of it. I thought it would be useful to have this open space used for a community garden. It’s something that we can include the community and be more of a community – not just an open space – but something people utilized for growing food and getting people to know each other. In a way, it can help draw the people around here and outer east Portland, closer.”

While he could be at home, working on own lawn or enjoying a nice springtime day, Eaton said he was proud to be working with the other volunteers on the project. “It’s hard work. But, it’s really fulfilling; we’re enjoying doing something good.”

Referring to it as a “Hands in the Dirt Spirituality” project, Jerry Schmidt, Pastor Bill Gates and Jan Schmidt roll up sod in the space that will soon become a community garden.

Sod disposal team
What did they do with 7,000 square feet of sod? “We’re giving it away. We advertised that folks could ‘come and get it’ – and it’s been a popular item,” Gates remarked.

The community garden is a partnership with the Parkrose School District’s nearby Sacramento Elementary School, and the Parkrose Heights neighborhood association.

“Although the plots are first-come, first-served, we are trying to get young families from the school district included – we’ll see,” remarked Gates. “We have people in our congregation, including a Hispanic fellowship, participating – as well as an Ethiopian Seventh-day Adventist congregation who also wants a couple of plots.”

Initially, they’re planning to build up 16 raised beds, 4 feet wide by 12 feet long. If all goes well, the pastor says, they may add another section of garden, as their expertise grows.

“It’s an exciting adventure to bring different kinds of people together, into something that’s inherently spiritual. We’re calling it ‘Hands in the Dirt Spirituality’. We look forward to seeing how this project grows,” concluded Gates.

Keep watching East Portland News – we’ll be checking back to see how this project is progressing.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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