Farm fun abounds, at Learning Gardens Lab’s “Harvest Fest”

Find out why they had a good time – and why neighbors say this unique East Portland garden is worth keeping …

Learning Gardens Laboratory educator Heidi Schmidgall gives prize drawing tickets to folks visiting their Harvest Fair.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Families were making their way into the “Learning Gardens Laboratory” on the afternoon of October 24 bent on attending the annual Harvest Party, and disregarding the steady drizzle.

Organizers set up most of the activities – including snacks and craft tables – inside the spacious greenhouse, to keep participants warm and dry.

“This is a free community event we hold in the autumn,” said Learning Gardens Laboratory Volunteer Coordinator Megan Dickison. “It’s to celebrate the successful harvest in our garden with our students, colleagues, our site partners, and the community in general.”

Squeezing fresh apple cider is young volunteer Charlotte Kelley.

Learning Gardens Laboratory Volunteer Coordinator Megan Dickison spends a moment with the PSU “Leadership for Sustainable Education” Program Professor Sybil Kelley, and with Learning Garden Fundraising and Events Planner Irene Bailey.

It is important to hold the festival, Dickison told East Portland News, “Because it gives us the opportunity to welcome the community into our space. It also gives us the opportunity to solicit community support for keeping our garden going!

The Learning Garden Laboratory is important, especially to this neighborhood, Dickison opined, because it provides garden-based education for about 150 Lane Middle School students every week.

Intrepid visitors brave the rain to talk with garden partners.

“We also have many ‘site partners’ here, including Multnomah County Master Gardeners, the Beginning Urban Farmer Partnership, and the Community Transitional School.

“Then there’s a Portland Community Fruit Tree Project Orchard in the northwest corner of the property,” Dickison added.

Just outside the door of the greenhouse was a favorite attraction – a working apple cider press, with volunteers squeezing out gallons of the sweet amber liquid. Under canopies in the garden, some of the partners met with visitors who were intrepid enough to brave the rain.

Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association Chair Jacob Sherman, holding Caroline, says a zoning change will help protect the Learning Gardens Laboratory.

Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association Chair Jacob Sherman said he was concerned that the Learning Garden Laboratory, operated by Portland State University, might be “zoned out of existence”.

“We’re advocating to the city to rezone the 12 acre property as ‘open space’ – as it’s been for the last forty years,” Sherman said. “You look around here, and you see that this is a vibrant community hub. It is really important for our neighborhood; it’s probably our biggest asset – and it is part of place-making for Brentwood-Darlington.”

Crafters fashion their own rosemary crowns.

Inside the greenhouse, guests nibbled on chips, salsa, hummus, and artisanal breads as they visited other garden partners, played games, and crafted rosemary crowns.

“This place is where our community gets together to know one another,” Sherman said, looking at the activity swirling around him. “It’s where you see different organizations cross paths and have cross pollination with our neighbors.”

More information is available about the Learning Gardens Laboratory at their website: CLICK HERE to open it.

> On our Front Page: Former Learning Gardens staff member and volunteer Nakisha Nathan shows off her rosemary crown.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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