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July 6th, 2005 Adrian Chen | News Stories
 

HOW DOES YOUR (URBAN) GARDEN GROW?

Answer: with the city's help.

     
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Quietly rusting pump stations and litter-strewn vacant lots throughout Portland could look a lot more pastoral in the future.

A recent inventory of city-owned land conducted by graduate students from Portland State University identifies more than 280 sites ripe with urban agriculture potential.

The students worked with city officials between March and June to inventory unused, city-owned property as part of the so-called "Diggable City" initiative passed last November by City Council.

Proposed by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the initiative aims to increase community gardens and small-scale farms in Portland. Officials see the unused land, which totals dozens of acres, as an opportunity to jump-start that process.

Backers of the idea say the new projects shouldn't be your average oregano-growing yuppie-fest.

"They won't be in areas with a lot of those people," says Brendan Finn, Saltzman's policy and project manager. "The locations are in the Columbia corridor and in outer Northeast and outer Southeast.''

The nature and location of the plots should instead appeal to a kind of urban agriculture that differs from more established community gardens now in Portland.

One such project is being proposed by Zenger Farms, a nonprofit involved in environmental education and stewardship. The idea: to set up an apprentice program to help Third World immigrants and poorer refugees learn the ins and outs of running an agricultural business.

"They're really emerging as the next generation of family farmers," says Wisteria Loeffler of Zenger Farms.

Another program hopes to grow fresh produce for Portland's public schools while showing children where their food comes from.

The city's Food Policy Council, a branch of Portland's Office of Sustainable Development, must now hash it out with city bureaus that own the land to cherry-pick a handful of initial sites for development.

Bureaus such as Parks and Environmental Services must come to terms with the fact that some of their land could soon be home to rows of tomatoes.

This could be difficult, as the report acknowledges many of the sites it lists are already slated for development by their respective owners.

Officials at both Environmental Services and Transportation told WW they didn't even know some of their properties were listed in the inventory-perhaps a hint at future conflict.

"There are going to be issues,'' Finn says. "These are properties that are owned by bureaus, and they could have problems with certain uses."

 
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