Parkrose Heights gardeners celebrate harvest of crops and growth of community

They did more than just provide garden space for neighbors! You’ll be amazed at how much fresh food they were able to donate to SnowCap Community Charities this season …

This community garden, run by volunteers, produced a bumper crop of vegetables – and friendships.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A little more than three years ago, what was once a patch of seldom-used lawn at Parkrose United Methodist Church became a community garden, thanks to the efforts of volunteers.

  • See the “sod-busting” story that kicked off this effort: CLICK HERE.

Gardeners, friends and supporters of the Parkrose Heights Community Garden gathered on September 30 for a “Harvest Dinner” to celebrate the bounty of their third growing season.

Katrina Kellmer, garden coordinator of the Parkrose Heights Community Garden, welcomes guests to the Harvest Dinner.

The garden’s coordinator, Katrina Kellmer, welcomed us, proclaiming, “I’m happy to say we reached our goals this year; we’ve accomplished everything we wrote down on paper. We now have a greenhouse, compost bin, 10 foot long table, and a raised bed for SnowCap Charities.”

In addition to neighbors being able to grow their own food, the garden – thanks to their resident tomato expert, Clay Osburn – donated hundreds of pounds of the red fruit to help hungry people in East County served by SnowCap Community Charities. “And, we’ve helped approximately 50 people gain access to fresh food,” Kellmer added.

Commenting that she certainly takes her volunteer responsibilities seriously, we asked Kellmer why she’s put such a great amount of energy into managing the garden.

Friends, supporters, and neighbors come to enjoy the Harvest Festival – it’s both a dinner and an opportunity to further build community.

“It’s become my passion,” she replied. “This truly is a community garden. People of all nationalities come here – including a charter gardener, Beyene Edo and his family, who came here from Oromo, Ethiopia. We have people from David’s Harp, an organization who help less-capable individuals to garden. They talk so positively in this lovely garden.”

Helping others learn to grow food is the source of her continued passion for the project, Kellmer pointed out. “It makes me feel really good that I’m helping others learn how to garden, and to take fresh, healthy food home to their families – and save money!

“The really great thing is how builds a real sense of community. When we come together, and do something a simple as pulling weeds, we’re building friendships.”

Katrina Kellmer introduces Clay Osburn, who helped the garden produce a bumper crop of tomatoes later donated to local charities.

Clay Osburn, the acknowledged tomato-growing champion, admitted, “Yes it’s true; I’m the one gardening tomatoes. My dad used to grow tomatoes, my wife said the she missed my dad’s tomatoes, so I took it up from there. Starting from seed, I grew 33 varieties this year – and we harvested enough of them that we were able to give about 800 pounds of tomatoes to needy people this season.”

Noe Rodriguez gives the blessing at the Harvest Dinner.

Carilyn Fairfield gets delicious-looking desserts ready on the buffet line.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz obviously enjoys meeting folks at the Harvest Dinner.

“When I see people gathered together at an event like this,” exclaimed Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, I think to myself, ‘This is why I do my job!’

“As the recipient of an East Portland Neighborhood Small Grant, this garden is beautiful evidence how a small amount of money can get the community coming together in a very positive way.”

Although she explained that she could only stay a short time before heading off to another obligation, Fritz added, “This is why I advocated so strongly for fully funding the Neighborhood Small Grants Program this year.

“We did have to cut it back in the worst of the recession, and we’re not out of [the financial downturn] yet. But, this is just one good example of why Neighborhood Small Grant Program matters.”

Tables of food welcome hungry guests at this Harvest Dinner.

And even more delicious dishes provide a wide variety of dinner choices.

As guests wound their way through tables laden with food that made up a bountiful dinner buffet, Parkrose United Methodist Church’s pastor, Bill Gates, recalled how the project got started.

“It was so many years ago, we were wondering what to do with this property here at our church,” Gates reminisced. “We considered building affordable housing here, but zoning codes made it too difficult. The natural thing was to take out the lawn, put a garden here, and invite the neighbors in.  It’s been a wonderful thing,to bring people together; they probably wouldn’t come together for church activities. But, the spirituality of gardening is universal. It’s been a real gift to us all.”

Charter gardener Beyene Edo looks up from his dinner.

Katrina Kellmer introduces gardener Nicole Seery – she’s holding Luna.

“I love working in the soil,” confided gardener Nicole Seery. “I love working with my hands, and watching from the plants grow from a little ‘sea of green’ into full-grown plants.”

Seery said she also enjoyed making salsa with kids from the youth group. And, after working her “day job” at Portland Community College, she added, “For me it is a place to unwind, and relax.”

For many reasons – fresh food; saving money; building friendships – it certainly looks as if the Parkrose Heights Community Garden has established deep and enduring roots in the community.

Want to learn more? Visit the garden at 11111 Northeast Knott Street or see their Facebook page: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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