The neighborhood surrounding the Peninsula Park Rose Garden is about to look a lot greener. Neighbors of the June Key Delta Community Center, located on the corner of N Albina and N Ainsworth, have watched the Living Building Challenge remodel of the gas station since last August, but on May 29 neighbors noticed hard hat-clad volunteers preparing the land for a garden on the lot adjacent to the ongoing project.

The garden won’t be plotted out and sold to the community. Instead, Delta Sigma Theta, the organization that owns the gas station and the land, will use it as a tool to teach healthy eating habits, urban agriculture and sustainable living practices. The June Key Delta Community Center says the garden will “serve as a demonstration of how African-American communities heavily burdened by health disparities such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity can work together.”

According to The State of Black Oregon, a report by the Urban League of Portland, death rates from diabetes among African Americans are considerably higher, at 73 percent, than among whites, at 29 percent. The occurrence of high blood pressure among African Americans is 42 percent compared to 25 percent for whites. The organization employs these statistics for service activities that aim to improve the health, both mental and physical, of community members suffering from such disparities.

Irene Schwoeffermann, gardening coordinator, says the garden is “a way for us to teach [neighbors] how to garden and also help them have a better understanding of where their food comes from.”

Kaiser Permanente, Multnomah County, and other organizations that specialize in health disparities donated materials for Delta Sigma Theta to use in educational programs about healthy eating.

Irene Schwoeffermann, gardening coordinator
Irene Schwoeffermann, gardening coordinator. Photo: Natalie St. John

East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District gave the Chapter a $1,500 starter grant to clear land and obtain 38 planter boxes prior to the work party on May 29.

Supporters and volunteers included members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and Greek organization, members of the community and neighbors, and Hands on Portland. Friends of Trees, Portland Nursery, Naomi’s Organic Farm supply and many other donors supplied the plants for this community garden.

Schwoeffermann says that the garden can serve as a demonstration for those whose don’t currently garden but observed gardening in the generations before them.

“A lot of members of the African-American community here, they have roots that aren’t that many generations back from somewhere else in the county where their family was sharecropping or lived on a farm or gardened regularly, so what we’re really trying to do is encourage people to readopt those practices,” Schwoeffermann says.

Working on the Living Building project corresponds with Schwoeffermann’s studies in sustainability at Portland State University and allows her to participate in community building as a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

“It’s been amazing to be around and have people come through and talk about being raised in Alabama and everything they were able to get from their family’s garden, and they’re excited about seeing that connection being built back,” Schwoeffermann says.