Citizens celebrate new Community Garden at Helensview

Learn why it took a lot of effort, and cooperation, to bring the Sumner Neighborhood its first park-like amenity – a brand-new Community Garden …

With the gate open – Sumner neighbors, supporters, and officials begin to arrive at the Helensview Community Garden, to celebrate its grand opening.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Smiles were as plentiful, as brilliant sunshine welcomed officials, neighbors – and gardeners – to the Helensview Community Garden, on the afternoon of March 9.

As folks circulated around the garden plots, Sumner Association of Neighbors Chair Scott Somohano told how this new garden came to be.

Sumner Association of Neighbors Chair Scott Somohano uses a ribbon to signal that this garden plot has been reserved.

“Our neighborhood association wrote a concept plan back in 2011,” Somohano told East Portland News. “We shopped it around to the different agencies to try to get a community garden at this location, at NE Sumner Street and NE 87th Avenue.”

It took some doing, Somohano said, because the property is owned by the Parkrose School District, and leased by the Multnomah Education Service District – the entity that operates Helensview School, an alternative high school that supports students with needs that have not been met in other educational settings.

-3 Future gardeners browse plots, looking for the “perfect spot” for their garden.

“This meant we had to get the ‘buy-in’ from the two different school districts, then try to convince Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) to accept this into their ‘1,000 Gardens’ Program,” Somohano explained.

In 2009, the residents of this 800 household neighborhood conducted a door-to-door survey, seeking to discover the wants and needs of folks living in their area.

“Having a park, or some kind of shared open space – including a community garden – was one of the top things, coming in second to have a ‘safe place to live’,”  Somohano revealed. “People closest to this location said they were interested in having a community garden.”

It took a lot of effort, the Neighborhood Chair admitted. “But, it was worth it, don’t you think? Portland is my town; these are my people. I got involved with the neighborhood association to help out, and we took our cue from the people who live in this neighborhood.”

Portland Parks Board Member Linda Robinson, Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, his Policy Advisor Emily York, and Friends of Portland Community Gardens Chair Allen Field, all say they’re happy about the opening of the new Community Garden.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish was on hand for the grand opening.

“Officially, this is the last of our ‘1,000 Gardens’ project we launched a few years ago,” Fish said.

“Like all the Community Gardens, this one is a wonderful example of partnerships,” commended Fish.

“It’s Portland’s 47th Community Garden,” Fish added. “Whether it’s 400 sq. ft. or 200 sq. ft., each is its own unique garden. We pledged to create a thousand garden plots, in which the City would directly invest.

Because, thanks to funding provided by the East Portland Neighborhood Small Grant Program, and other such sources, Fish observed to East Portland News that about additional 1,000 garden plots have been added, using the property of churches and other nonprofit organizations.

“Even though the City didn’t directly fund these, it helps us to double our goal.”

Linda Robinson pointed out that there are two such gardens – outside the City’s official effort: In the Russell Neighborhood, and in the Rosewood area.

“Sumner is very park-deficient,” commented Robinson, a member of the Portland Parks Board. “This is the first significant investment in a park here; and, I hope, the first of many. This is a milestone.”

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz congratulates Sumner neighbors on the opening of their new Community Garden.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz was also on hand.

“You know that I’ve been a long-time parks advocate,” Fritz said. “And, I’ve been a long-time partner with Parks in outer East Portland. Like where I live in Southwest Portland, we have not enough community gardens and park facilities.”

She came out as a hands-on volunteer when volunteers were preparing the park, Fritz said. “That’s why I’m happy to see it starting up. I was helping with some of the unloading of materials and such. Other volunteers took over and turned this space into a wonderful community garden.”

Brice Anderson of Oregon Tilth examines the roots of the “cover crop” of peas for nodules that indicate, he says, the “nitrogen-fixing properties of the roots”.

Looking at plants covering a plot, Brice Anderson said he was there to teach an Oregon Tilth class on “Getting your Garden Started” that afternoon.

“I’m trying to help people be as successful as they can with their new garden plot,” Anderson explained. “With a little instruction, hopefully it will help our gardeners kick off a good and productive season.”

Money comes from many sources
Funding came from a grant from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, Somohano revealed – plus additional matching funds from Portland Parks & Recreation. The Friends of Portland Community Gardens has provided tools for the garden, through a donation from Ames True Temper.

Somohano requested, “Could you mention that the Subway in Cascade Stations donated all the sandwiches and cookies today?”

Consider it done, Scott! Congratulations to you, and all of your volunteers, for bringing a Community Garden to your neighborhood.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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