Kyle Curtis recently sent an update on Outgrowing Hunger’s activities. He reminds us that while Portand is considered a foodie mecca, “The further east one goes from Portland’s urban core, the more difficult it is to find food that is both healthy and affordable. Ironically, a large amount of area that currently makes up East Portland were prime farmland up until annexation a few decades ago.” As the chair of this association advocating for access to healthy food in East Portland and Multnomah County, he is proud of its accomplishments in 2013:
- 123 Families were active in projects, well over 300 individuals.
- 6 Locations currently in production, with 2 more in the pipeline.
- 12,800 sq ft of gardens added, to make a total of 52,890 sq ft of gardens, (1.21 Acres)
- 364 Volunteer-visits generated over
- 1140 hours of volunteer service.
- 208 People were engaged through tabling events.
- 422 Total attendance at 6 Community dinners and events
- $5070 worth of in-kind donations added to our $16,500 cash budget to make all this possible.
And now on to the original post describing how Outgrowing Hunger creates community gardens to bring healthy food to local residents.
Portland is widely known as a food Mecca, the place that came up with food trucks and where microbreweries are a dime a dozen. But there is another side to the laid-back Pacific Northwest city, one where whole neighborhoods have turned into food deserts abandoned by shopkeepers. The Centennial neighborhood on the east side of the city is one of them. “There were problems with crime and the last grocery store closed because of theft issues. It was a no man’s land though safety has improved through a stronger police presence,” Kyle Curtis explains. As part of AmeriCorps, Curtis spent a year developing after-school activity programs for students and their parents in this low-income neighborhood. One of these activities happened to be a garden he started at a local school.
Starting with the children, Curtis wanted to raise awareness and unite a whole neighborhood because he believes that a garden can be at once a source of pride and a source of food. One of his friends, Adam Kohl, has launched a non -profit called Outgrowing Hunger whose mission is to develop the gardens in neglected neighborhoods in order to fight hunger locally by producing healthy food. In the Centennial district, a local church had a 5,000 square feet plot, which it wanted to turn into a garden. Combining the land provided by the church and the expertise of Outgrowing Hunger, the project got off the ground in only a few months. In this article for a local newspaper online, Curtis explains the process of starting the garden in details. In addition, Curtis became a member of the Portland Multnomah Food Policy Council, an organization made up of citizens and professionals working on food issues in the Portland area (access to food, school lunches, land use,…).
“We wanted to avoid telling people what they need. We wanted to provide resources and ask them what they wanted to do,” Curtis explains. In April 2012, thirty neighborhood volunteers gathered to break ground. “There was a festive mood that weekend. Since then, a small group of about five people have remained invested. In exchange for one or two hours of work, participants can take vegetables home.” The idea of growing one’s food is a new concept in the neighborhood, but people are already invested in this plot. “We were told that a man had lost it and was pulling out the carrots and potatoes. Neighbors stopped him. Our goal is to have people take ownership of the garden,” Curtis says. Once this garden is well established, the idea is to start another one elsewhere. One abandoned plot at a time, Curtis and Kohl would like to reconquer Portland’s disadvantaged neighborhoods with plants and crops serving as a healing tool. While this was not Curtis and Kohl’s focus in starting their project, horticultural therapists can immediately see how such gardening programs could be built around goals and objectives for group participants, thus turning into horticultural therapy.