There are some lifestyle choices that might seem more “Portlandish” than others. Riding around town on a fixed-gear bicycle, for example, or getting together with friends to drink handcrafted, limited-release, imperial microbrews. Although supplementing one’s diet with homegrown food is not unique to Portland, this list would not be complete without the inclusion of gardening.
Think about the last time you took a walk around your block. How many front lawn gardens, or even raised garden beds installed on sidewalk strips, did you see? It seems like plenty of Portlanders have discovered an inner green thumb, which makes sense, considering the current economy. Growing your own food is one step towards reducing your cost of living while also minimizing the distance food travels to your plate.
Of course, having your own garden requires a number of resources, including time, space and money. It’s a rare Portlander who has an abundance of all three, but there are options available to make gardens cheap and relatively easy to manage—even for those lacking space.
Neighborhood Notes has examined some of these options with the hopes that our suggestions enable Portlanders to grow more of their own food.
Containers, Going Vertical, and Community Gardens
As previously mentioned in this series, Growing Gardens provides a container gardening class for erstwhile gardeners who live in apartments and are limited by space constraints. And don’t be concerned if your apartment patio or windows don’t receive direct sunlight, Growing Gardens will teach you how to grow plants such as lettuce and herbs in cooler, shadowy places. Vertical gardening—or using containers attached to a wall—is another option to grow food in a limited space. And, as observed on your neighborhood walk, parking strip gardens are another option for those pressed for space.
Of course, container gardening limits your growing options to whatever you can fit into empty coffee cans, recycling bins or hang on your walls. But what if you’re an apartment resident—or living in a house lacking available garden space—who wants to get down on your knees and get your hands dirty? Portland has 43 community gardens, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to call one of those patches your “own.” The plots are inexpensive to rent—$21 per year gets you a 100-foot plot including water—but gardeners are expected to provide their own equipment (check out some tools at your neighborhood tool library) and use organic practices.
Despite the large number of community gardens in Portland—for comparison’s sake, Gresham has just three—at the time of writing, only five of the city’s community gardens had available plots. The demand for community garden plots is an issue that has been addressed by the Oregon Solutions process. In response to this shortage, Commissioner Nick Fish—who oversees the parks bureau—kicked off his Community Garden Initiative program in 2010 to build 1,000 new garden plots throughout the city by 2012, and you can track the progress on his 1,000 Gardens blog.
Efforts to accomplish this number of new plots has resulted in new community gardens on city land, but also an increase in the number of community gardens built on private land, such as churches and businesses. Organizations such as OSALT, Outgrowing Hunger and Grow Portland are just a few that help build community gardens on private land.
Yardsharing, Depaving, and Alleygating
Getting back to the home that lacks garden space, what if your neighbor on the other side of the fence has a little-used yard and absolutely no interest in gardening? Perhaps you could encourage this neighbor to take part in a yardshare arrangement.
A uniquely Portland-created program, Yardsharing.org was created by Montavilla resident Josh Patterson to encourage people to turn their lawns into productive gardens that grow enough food to feed two to four families. As Patterson points out on Yardsharing’s website, owners of community garden plots were growing too much food and donating the surplus to the Oregon Food Bank and he wondered why more people couldn’t do something similar.
“If on every street in Portland there were two to three gardens, there would be more food than we would even need,” Patterson writes, proposing a network of sustainable gardeners growing enough food to feed the hungry in both the city and throughout the state.
Sometimes, however, yard space—either yours or your neighbor’s—may simply not be available. One unfortunate drawback of urban living is the ever-present asphalt, especially if you have the misfortune of living next to a closed-down school or some similar unused building. As a result, you may spend your days looking at a cracked and broken parking lot while wondering how to turn that empty asphalt lot into a thriving garden space.
Depave are the experts that make green spaces out of asphalt, summarizing their mission as turning parking lots into paradise. Vestal Elementary Community Gardens, one of Portland’s newest community gardens, is an example of Depave’s work, built on one-third acre of an asphalt lot behind the elementary school on 82nd Avenue.
“The problem is concrete,” Depave states on their website. “The solution is clear: the removal of impervious pavements.” If you think you might be interested in a little depave-ing this summer, attend the open meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on June 13 at the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne.
“Alleygating” is another option, particularly for those neighborhoods such as Mt. Scott-Arleta that share a connected trail of urban alleyways. Spawned from City Repair’s annual Village Building Convergence event, the effort—called Alley-Oop by its participants—looks to create shared garden and common spaces in areas currently occupied by gravel and weeds.
The City “Gets Out of the Way” of Gardeners
Ultimately, it is incredibly easy to grow food in Portland for both yourself and to share with your neighbors. “You can have a garden on your property with no regulations,” says Jessica Richman, a senior planner at the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “You grow your own food, you can eat it. Maybe even share with your neighbor. Overall, we are getting out of the way more than any other city.”
So, would-be gardener, what are you waiting for? You now have information about how to grow food in a limited spaces—even growing in your neighbor’s yard—and you know the city stay out of the way of home gardeners.
Isn’t it time you joined the increasing number of Portland residents who are growing their own food?
Do you or your neighbors have an urban garden? Tells us about the ways you see Portlanders creatively gardening across the city.