Portland Community Gardens'
The sounds coming from the garden are young and full of enthusiasm: shouts of delight at the discovery of ripe strawberries tucked beneath leaves; a range of “ooh ick!” to “ooh, cool!” at the spotting of an earthworm in a newly turned garden bed.
As the season progresses and the young gardeners learn the important place of worms in their garden, it becomes almost all “cools” with almost no “icks” to be heard. Generally the voices are harmonious, as they learn how to work together on a common project toward a common goal – growing food for their own healthy snacks with extra to give to local food pantries.
In the last three years alone, the Children’s Gardening Program has donated over 1000 pounds of fresh food to community food banks. From May through October, Portland Community Gardens conducts a series of Children’s Gardening classes, where youth ages 6 to 12 gather at one of three Community Garden sites (Woodlawn, Lents and Fulton) one day a week to get a full range of experiences of gardening: From how to decide what to plant and then prepare the soil, through the process of planting and tending their chosen crops and the excitement of watching them grow and produce.
The program concludes with the satisfaction and pride of harvesting literally the fruits of their labor and sharing them not only with their fellow gardeners but with people they will probably never meet but who benefit from their help to have access to quality fresh produce.
The Children’s Gardening program is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2007. In that time they have given scores of Portland’s youth the opportunity to learn where food comes from, how they can raise and care for plants that will give them back fresh tasting food and direct, hands-on experience in the cycles of the natural world. Growing and preparing their own food, they obtain lessons in nutrition that they don’t even know they’re getting – they just think they’re having good tasting fun -- not realizing they are eating and enjoying foods that other kids would grimace at.
By being so actively a part of the whole process of growing food, they become courageous and more willing to experiment in their snack choices and food combinations. I might never have thought of spreading peanut butter on a freshly-picked chard leaf, not to mention adding freshly crushed, just picked strawberries on top…but the result was fresh tasting and satisfying (though next time I might have fresh strawberries on the side instead), but the best part was the eagerness of these young gardeners to try new things and their absolute insistence in including me in their feast, making sure that the food was portioned so that I could share with them.
There was a genuine enthusiasm and simple graciousness that I think comes in part from the experience of shared work and accomplishment. They’re proud of their efforts, and rightly so – “I’m a farmer!” one of them shouted, brandishing his shovel triumphantly at a newly-weeded bed destined to be planted later in the day with squash plants.
Some of the children come to the program as already fairly experienced gardeners, for others it’s their first time. All of them get the opportunity to gain and share knowledge. Some leave the program ready to start or expand on a garden at home. All get lessons and experiences that will last a lifetime.
Corina Reynolds Stearns, Portland Nursery Community Outreach Director