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Campus garden helps build community

In busy downtown Portland, residents of College Housing Northwest (CHNW) are getting their hands dirty and creating a mini-utopia in their community garden. Gardeners and would-be gardeners are given their own plot of earth to utilize and maintain, in which they can plant vegetables, herbs and flowers of their choice.

Residents of CHNW are able to take part in the free community garden, which is nestled between CHNW apartments and the freeway onramp on 12th and Montgomery, by applying at the CHNW Montgomery office.

“A garden is such a great thing to have here,” Maude Bowman, community garden coordinator said. “Living downtown we rarely get to see green spaces, it’s also a great place to hang out and listen to the birds. The freeway is right behind us, but I just pretend it’s the ocean.”

After maintaining a garden plot last year, Bowman recognized the need for a community garden coordinator who could devote a good deal of time to the garden, so she applied for the position.

Since Bowman began work as coordinator in October 2002, she has made a number of improvements to the garden, including tilling the earth, optimizing the number of plots with good exposure to sunlight, widening the paths for wheelchair accessibility and relocating the compost bin closer to the fence, giving residents of CHNW a place to recycle their organic waste.

Bowman is a sophomore majoring in history at PSU who has only recently discovered her green thumb. “Last year was my first year gardening here,” Bowman said. “I just went to the store, bought a bunch of seeds, and whatever came up, was what I had.”

She comes from a long line of gardeners, receiving support and advice about gardening from her mother and grandmother. The community of gardeners is also a great resource for information. Veteran gardeners are able to share their knowledge with first-time or beginning gardeners and everyone helps each other with watering their plots.

The idea of a community within our PSU community appeals to Bowman. She has organized bi-monthly gatherings in which people can meet to discuss ideas. On the second and fourth Saturday of each month the garden will host lectures on gardening, composting and cooking.

They plan to hold veggie exchanges, in which PSU students and faculty can come together as a community to exchange homemade goods, art or poetry for the fresh vegetables grown in the CHNW community garden.

Bowman has begun working with a PSU architect to obtain the O.D.O.T. land adjacent to the current property to expand the garden. Her hope is to open the access to the garden to all PSU students, not just residents of College Housing Northwest.

CHNW leases the land for the community garden from PSU, and is responsible for the safety of those who come there to garden. Due to liability issues the garden is currently only available to CHNW residents.

There are many community gardens within Portland, are open to all Portland community members. Information is available through the Portland Parks and Recreation Web site at

Karie Korporal, a member of the residents’ council, is interested in starting a native plant garden, consisting of plants indigenous to the area. “The benefit of a native plant garden is that the plants are more disease-resistant and require less fertilizer and watering, because they’ve grown up here,” Bowman said.

As the plant sprouts grow and the spring rains turn the foliage a lush green, the stark gray wall of the freeway, which serves as the backdrop to the garden, sticks out like a sore thumb.

Bowman is working with the city to receive a permit to paint a mural on the wall. If she receives the permit, Bowman hopes to connect a student volunteer from Pacific Northwest College of Art with the art department of PSU to paint a mural of a forest with a receding path.

Bowman said that most of the good plots are taken this year, some shady spots are still available, but plots regularly open up throughout the year. The community garden will also be operating during the winter when crops like cabbage, kale and soybeans flourish.