Port City Development will plant a vegetable garden this spring on a vacant lot near Williams and Tillamook. The half-acre lot is being loaned free-of-charge by Jim Howell, a retired architect and building planner. Port City Development is a non-profit organization in Eliot that serves adults with developmental disabilities.
The garden will be planted and managed by the members of Project Grow, one of several programs run by Port City Development. Members of the program make art and grow food. If they want to, they can earn a paycheck by selling their art at gallery shows, the latest of which brought in $1,200. They also sell fresh eggs and produce to nearby families and restaurants.
At Project Grow, the line between helper and helped is blurry. Meetings about the progress and future of the program include everyone, and everyone is encouraged to speak. It’s like walking into a classroom and being unable to distinguish the teacher from the students. One of the benefits of this arrangement, according to Port City’s Executive Director Bekah Cardwell, is that “everyone has a chance to do meaningful stuff.”
Project Grow members are also trying to strengthen relations within the Eliot neighborhood. They provide community garden plots, throw harvest parties and offer tours of their urban farm, complete with chickens and goats. Tim Donovan, a refreshingly positive twenty-six year-old originally from Connecticut, is enthusiastic about the prospect of getting more people involved. “The more excited people are about what’s happening here, the better.”
Less than a year ago, the property that Project Grow is now transforming into a garden was noteworthy only because it was undeveloped. Besides a mountain of blackberry bushes, clematis and english ivy, it was empty.
At the time, Project Grow was tending 5,000 square feet of garden space on the Port City property. But even with productive soil, this was only enough land to grow vegetables for a few families. More land meant more food, but more importantly, it meant an opportunity for more members and volunteers to get involved with an organic farm in the heart of Portland. “The folks who work here have as much of a right to work with chemical free agriculture as anyone else,” Donovan said.
The vacant lot, valued at nearly $500,000, was only a few hundred feet from Port City. It would be a perfect fit. Unfortunately, they couldn’t afford to buy or rent additional property. So they decided that since they couldn’t spend a nickel on the project, they wouldn’t. They would see what they could work out without spending any money at all.
The owner of the property, Jim Howell, bought the land in the seventies in hopes of developing it into apartments or a duplex, but he never got around to it.
Tim Donovan called Mr. Howell and proposed his idea. He and the other members of Project Grow would clear the brush and garbage, build a fence to prevent future dumping and grow vegetables.
Mr. Howell had turned down several development offers which involved homes and apartments, but Donovan’s proposal was different. It would put the land to good use without ruling out development in the future.
Mr. Howell agreed to let Project Grow use the property for two years. After that, they will meet again to decide the future of the agreement.