The Albina Cooperative Garden, A Local Experiment in Self-Organization

By Shara Alexander

Albina Cooperative Garden

Yes, now it is Winter, but soon it will be Spring. Green buds will be pushing out from every plant node. You will have the urge to get outside and grow things. How will you start your vegetable growing experiment in the year 2012? Will you go alone outside to your muddy back yard (not to malign your back yard), or to the little pot on your windowsill (it’s a lovely windowsill, by the way), or to the parking strip you tore up last year (well, that’s not really a problem, the grass will grow back) and wonder “what next? Do I have to do this alone?”

Perhaps instead you’ll join the Albina revolution.

You want collard greens? We can grow collard greens. You want eggplant? We can do that. There’s only one small caveat, we need your labor and your generous spirit to lift this garden up.

If you have ever wanted to work on an organic farm with intrepid, all-weather, experienced farmers, you have a golden opportunity before you. Wait no longer!

Over the next 1st and 3rd Saturdays, around 10:30 am, come down to the Albina Cooperative garden at N Russell just West of N Vancouver. Meet the Project Grow farm team and various and sundry volunteers. There is no contract to sign, no set commitment, and no experience necessary. You are wanted just the way you are, and any level of participation is welcome.

With your labor and love, this beautiful South-facing lot will be transformed by Summer into a field of vegetable crops to be shared among us. Come work the farm right here in the heart of the city. The land has been tilled, the rows and the paths laid out. The next step, through Winter, is screening the tilled sod to remove rock, and hauling compost – a vigorous and rewarding job. You will feel virtuous, yet you won’t be alone. While you are standing over screens picking out rocks, or shoveling soil, you may find yourself talking with neighbors or new friends about books, plant biology, cooking … then you might have a doughnut break. You won’t know until you come. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted in a neighborhood. It’s yours. Love it, and let it feed you.

Who Supports the Albina Cooperative Garden?

Tim Donovan

Project Grow at Port City has received a five year lease from Emanuel hospital to lead the creation of this garden. Support comes from Legacy Emanuel Hospital, Eliot Neighborhood Association and the Lloyd District Association, with a very crucial grant from Portland Bureau of Environmental Services. The leadership comes from Project Grow’s farm specialists Tim Donovan and James Ragsdale, the resources come from the above organizations, and the cooperative labor comes from the community. The resulting produce is shared equally between members.

How Does it Work?

While there will be a set number of members in the garden (to ensure there is enough produce to go around), there will be greater capacity for membership than traditional plot-rental gardens.  Membership will be yearly, with competitive (read: crazy cheap!) prices.  Fertilizer, seeds, materials, and tools are all covered in the membership share; no need to sink a bunch of money into a money-saving food project!

In this model the group will define the atmosphere. The work may be a singular endeavor,  or there may be a competitive spirit that drives the growers. In either case it is meant to nourish the soul.  Everyone is invited to come pitch in on our weekend work parties, and interested residents of Lloyd & Eliot neighborhoods are encouraged to get in touch to apply for garden membership (email for the 2012 season.

The Albina Cooperative garden will be land worked together and the resulting produce will be shared. It is an urban agrarian experiment in self-organization. What happens when neighbors come together to farm the same land and harvest the same crops together? Working a field with other farm hands may transport you to another time or place. It’s positively revolutionary!

Interesting times create interesting experiments. Work began in May of 2011, and we have a guaranteed five years to experiment and transform this little part of Eliot. What will it look like in 2016?