After almost four years of persistence, patience, site-scouting, and overcoming bureaucratic and land use obstacles, North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood will have its own community garden.

The garden, expected to open as early as this fall, will be located on the corner of N Burrage Avenue and N Houghton Street, slightly south of N Columbia Boulevard. Angela Moos, chair of the Kenton Neighborhood Association, estimates that 45 plots will be available on the 17,000 square-foot plot of land.

“We’ll have more than the usual number of plots,” says Marina Wynton, who was heavily involved in siting the community garden.

That Kenton is getting a community garden means more to the neighborhood’s residents than having a visible beacon of Portland progressiveness in their backyards. Kenton, just as it has historically been, is a working class neighborhood that has also become ethnically diverse. The community garden, Kenton residents say, will help address entrenched issues of food security and equity.

“Our neighborhood has a lot of food security issues,” Wynton says. “We don’t have a good grocery store in our neighborhood.”

Wynton says there are numerous “guerilla gardens” in Kenton because many residents have a desire to grow their own food. But many live in homes that have little to no front or backyard space, ruling out the possibility of a garden.

The biggest difficulty Moos, Wynton, and others faced as they pursued establishing the garden was finding a site. Kenton Park was everyone’s first choice because of its location and size. But there were parking concerns, and a skate park is planned for the portion of the park that would have been the best area for a community garden.

The next choice was Trenton Park, but it is too small, and it didn’t fit other criteria for a community garden site as set by the Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau. “The neighbors would have loved it, of course, but it wasn’t going to happen,” Moos says.

Location of the Kenton Community Garden at N Burrage Avenue and N Houghton Street
Location of the Kenton Community Garden at N Burrage Avenue
and N Houghton Street. Image: Bing Maps
 

Moos and others were hopeful earlier this year that the garden would be located at Peninsular School. “That was looking very favorable for six months,” Moos says.

But the school had concerns that the garden would interfere with the baseball field’s backstops and other recreation areas, leading that site to be nixed.

“That was hugely disappointing, because we thought we had it,” Moos says.

The lack of vacant land became another obstacle. Moos says there is a lot of infill development in Kenton, meaning that there is additional construction on lots already built up. Many of those sites consist of long, skinny houses with little or no backyard.

“There just aren’t open, vacant lots that we could have ever been able to purchase from a developer or a landowner,” she says.

Finally, Portland Parks and Recreation’s community garden staff found the land on N Burrage Avenue and N Houghton Street, which is owned by the Bureau of Environmental Services. Moos says the neighborhood association also worked with City Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s office, had numerous residents, organizations and other community partners write letters of support, and had a volunteer landscape designer draft a preliminary site design.  

The neighborhood subsequently got the land, as well as a $36,700 community livability grant from the Portland Development Commission, which will used by the parks bureau to develop and maintain the garden.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Moos says. “It just brought tears to my eyes when we got the message that we received the grant. It’s been a huge desire for the neighborhood.”

Wynton is concerned that location may not be ideal. “It’s not visible. Most people won’t walk by it. You have to go to it to know it’s there. You won’t stumble by it,” she says, because it is not in as visible a location as Kenton Park, for example. “But at the same time, I had to give up my preference for the location to defer to having a garden at all.”