Beaverton’s Community Garden Program (CGP), first established in the early 1980s, continues to bring residents together to engage in one of humanity’s oldest and most important undertakings: growing healthful foods locally.
The benefits of locally grown vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits are vast, and the positive interactions of people in a community who work on conjoined garden spaces are even greater.
Scott Keller, manager of the CGP, says the main goal of the program is to provide a dedicated place for Beaverton residents who may not have space at home to garden and grow supplemental food.
The program provides gardeners with a plot or raised bed, a portion of mulch and running water, which is available from April 1 through October 31. The plots are 25’ by 25’ and the raised beds are 4’ by 6’. Gardeners pay a $50.00 annual fee.
As for methods of growing, most “how-to” decisions are left up to the individual gardener. Keller stresses that the program is not certified organic nor chemical free, however, everyone is urged to employ environmentally friendly pest controls and fertilizers when possible. Herbicides are prohibited.
Expectations of etiquette for gardeners include responsibly tending to their plots or raised beds, while not interfering with neighboring spaces.
The CGP encourages a shared experience and helpful relations among gardeners, though the extent to which this happens depends on the people involved, Keller says.
The dynamics change from year to year.
At harvest time, Keller and other CGP staff have facilitated, with the gardeners, the donation of extra produce to organizations like The Oregon Food Bank.
A non-profit group called the Tualatin Valley Gleaners, which has registered a garden plot for the past four years, raises food for those who need supplemental help providing for themselves and their families.
Activities like these help to promote a communal energy in the otherwise self-contained, individualized community garden plots, suggests Amy Miner – Public Information Manager for the Beaverton Mayor’s Office – and Scott Keller.
“The nature of gardening here is somewhat solitary,” says Keller, “where even at the largest garden you don’t see more than a dozen gardeners at any one time because people have different schedules.”
Though not always working the earth at the same time, the gardeners often make friends with the people around them. Some even swap seed-started plants.
“Gardeners are encouraged to share knowledge with each other and participate in the gardener community,” Keller says, “but ultimately each gardener is responsible for his or her own plot.”
Although agrarian in its equitable division of land between the people involved, and its interest in promoting local agriculture, the garden program at this time is not a fully-realized communal cooperative.
Its structure is a microcosm of the structure of a municipality or even a neighborhood subdivision. Individual decisions and ownership rights trump concerns or actions with potential to benefit the group as a whole.
Participants can attempt to persuade each other with suggestions, but the essential rule remains, “Mind your own plot and don’t interfere with others.”
With the loss last year of the property containing the program’s largest garden – known as the Kennedy Gardens – Keller, along with Miner and the CGP staff have been considering the future.
“The program is in transition,” says Miner, “and we are always working toward improvements to best serve the public.”
Finding a new site for the Kennedy Gardens has been under way since the CGP was notified by the owners of the previous location – St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church – they had decided to use the land for a different community-based purpose.
The lease arrangement ended December 31, 2008. At that time the City said it hoped to find replacements at one or more new locations for as many of the garden plots as possible.
Two challenges still face them, however: Finding a large enough piece of property, and gaining adequate funding to develop the site.
For more information on the progress of the program and to become a gardener, please contact the Community Garden Program by phone at (503) 526-2665 or on the Web at www.beavertonoregon.gov/gardens.