Woodlawn Community Garden History and Fun Facts


Woodlawn Community Garden History and Fun Facts

Did you know that the Woodlawn Community Garden, located next to Woodlawn Elementary School on NE 11th Avenue, was originally a project of the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association (WNA)? And that it has been operating as a community garden for twenty-five years?

A Brief History of the Woodlawn Community Garden

In 1996, a committee involving Woodlawn Neighborhood Association (WNA) members and Woodlawn Elementary School teachers began meeting to plan the creation of a community garden. Leslie Pohl-Kosbau, the founder and Director of Community Gardens for Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) from 1975 to 2011, had worked with the WNA for years on this project. In November 1996, Portland Public Schools gave permission to start the garden on a parcel of land between the school and Woodlawn Park. This site was specifically chosen for its visibility and to encourage more community involvement. Initial funding for the project included a $16,000 grant from the Bureau of Housing & Community Development and a grant from the Edible Classrooms Project of the Alice Waters Foundation.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the garden site on May 22, 1997. That fall, the Park Trust Fund provided $8,100 for construction drawings of the garden. A soil test was conducted in November; that same month, PP&R installed the water meter and irrigation system.

The garden officially opened on May 8, 1998. Alice Waters was a special guest and featured speaker. In addition to the Garden Classroom, there were seventeen community garden plots. The next day, a fundraising group called 16 Girls and a Guy held “From the Ground Up,” a silent auction/dinner benefit for the garden at Atwater’s Restaurant in downtown Portland. This event raised nearly $40,000 to cover major garden construction costs including excavation, berm construction, and concrete work.

In October 1999, Alice Waters was back at Atwater’s for a book signing reception and dinner for her newest book, Chez Panisse Café Cookbook. Proceeds from this event helped fund the Garden Classroom, a program to teach children about healthy eating through the planting, tending, and harvesting of a garden plot. From 2008 to 2012, Woodlawn was home to PP&R’s longest running and last to operate children’s garden program. It was launched in collaboration with the Friends of Portland Community Gardens, the Portland Trail Blazers, and Fred Meyer.

In August 2007, AVEENO® and Organic Gardening provided funding for the installation of a Thai Jar rainwater-harvesting cistern, the first of its kind in the northwestern United States. In addition to the cistern, the project included a new covered arbor that serves as a gathering and teaching space, flower boxes around the tool shed, roses for the perennial beds, and a new picnic table. At present, the Thai Jar has several cracks and is (unfortunately) in need of repair.

There are currently forty-three plots in the Woodlawn Community Garden. One plot is dedicated to Produce for People; everything grown there is donated to the St. Andrew Church food pantry on NE Alberta Street. In the summer, we also have a “free produce box” attached to the park side of the fence; neighbors strolling by can help themselves! Teachers and students from Woodlawn Elementary School continue to have a plot and also use the garden as a “classroom” for art, science education, and other projects. The garden has communal raspberries, strawberries, herbs, and fruit trees including a pear and a fig, and a native plant habitat area. There is now an active mason bee house and a dedicated dahlia garden beloved by the many visiting pollinators and gardeners who enjoy picking bouquets. Fun fact: In 2008, President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea were campaigning for Hillary and visited the Woodlawn Community Garden. They pulled weeds and posed for photographs with gardeners and neighborhood residents.