Urban gardening is thriving here in Portland and the organization Growing Gardens makes sure low-income Portland residents can enjoy food security by growing organic vegetables in their own yards. The goal of Growing Gardens is to get at the root of hunger by empowering families with the knowledge and experience they need to affordably grow gardens of their own.
Growing Gardens offers two main programs for the residents of Portland: Home Gardens, for individual families, and Youth Grow, which partners with schools and other youth organizations around the city. Growing Gardens also offers Learn & Grow workshops that are open to the general public. Topics range from natural pest control to raising chickens.
In 2008, the Home Gardens program enrolled 62 families and in total, 139 people benefited from the services. Residents who participate in Home Gardens must live in North, Northeast, or Southeast Portland and must be at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline.
Rodney Bender manages Home Gardens and says one of his favorite things about his job is the one-on-one time he gets with the gardeners, especially when they get excited about their garden.
Families sign up in the fall and early summer to receive assistance building beds specifically designed for their house or apartment. When spring comes, each family is paired with a mentor who helps them plan their garden layout and choose vegetables. This mentor stays with the family for the duration of the three-year program.
“We’re not only building a garden and teaching people how to grow food. We are exposing them to a more healthy lifestyle spending time outdoors and eating more delicious food,” says Rodney.
Youth Grow currently works with five area schools and one Boys and Girls Club to provide after-school gardening clubs, summer garden camps, and organic vegetables to elementary-aged kids in Portland. The schools and youth organizations participating with Youth Grow must have 50 percent or more of their students receiving free or reduced lunches.
Caitlin Blethen has managed Youth Grow for the past three years. Recounting her favorite story, Caitlin recalls a day when the students sampled kohlrabi from their garden and kohlrabi from a supermarket. One of the boys remarked, “I wish we could grow all of our lunch and come out here and eat all the time!” Caitlin experiences many such moments.
Growing Gardens currently has three full-time staff, two part-time staff, and two AmeriCorps members. This means its success depends largely on the help of countless volunteers. In 2008, 600 volunteers gave 2500 hours of their time to aid in projects.
If you are interested in volunteering, the best way to get involved is to sign up for email updates. Not only does volunteering build community, but volunteers gain hands-on knowledge as well.