Dear Commissioner Fish,
In your tenure as Commissioner of Portland Parks and Recreation, you’ve been an unprecedented champion of Community Gardens: you’ve convened resources, secured funding, focused on efficiency, and boosted our public profile, reaping tremendous support and enthusiasm.
Most importantly, you’ve been a consistently vocal proponent of the Children’s Gardening Program, speaking at our fundraisers, assuring participants and supporters that our critically important work will continue on. Notwithstanding the remarkable influx of energy and progress around Community Gardens, the Children’s Gardening Program needs your help more desperately than ever. While our founding organizations—Portland Community Gardens and Friends of Portland Community Gardens—go through major transitions and re-development, the hundreds of children anxious to return to the garden this spring are falling through the cracks. A garden, much like the developing minds of young students, suffers precipitously from a hiatus of attention and care; the work required to maintain the garden (let alone the program therein) is a mere fraction of what it would take to restore it after a year of disuse.
At our most recent fundraiser last September, a teacher with whom I work asked frankly whether the Children’s Gardening Program would continue to face its perennial funding crisis. You looked both of us in the eye and promised that my position as Children’s Gardening Coordinator would not go unfunded again this year. Commissioner Fish, I am challenging you to keep this promise—but I am challenging myself as well. I am confident that this program, if redeveloped in tandem with its founding supporters, is a model capable of providing quality, consistent, and equitable access to gardening opportunities for children and youth, cultivating a generation of community gardeners and leaders, and strengthening neighborhoods and food security in the process. Not only that—I am confident that if Woodlawn develops as pilot site, we can expand educational programming at school community gardens throughout Portland, supported by neighbors and local businesses and providing fair access to and authority on a subject which many schools and families struggle to explore and master on their own.
The budget for the Children’s Gardening Program has not yet exceeded $20,000, a minimal sum considering the number of people impacted and the lifelong values and skills acquired through participation. With the security enabled by such seed money this year, the Children’s Gardening Program will continue to build upon the tremendous momentum in place, working in partnership with our founders to ensure that our effort to furnish sustainable education can itself be kept up over time. Without your help, however, the garden will remain locked and fallow this year—and that fence won’t stop anyone when the raspberries and strawberries ripen in the first weeks of summer. Our seed library will expire, our carefully crafted habitat will decline, and the tremendous hope, pride and enthusiasm surrounding the garden will dissipate with the rest. Hundreds of pounds of food will go unharvested, years of effort atrophied.
Participants and volunteers remain hopeful, despite our tenuous situation. We will be out in the garden this Sunday, rain or shine, planting peas and spinach, beets and carrots. The soil is ready, the tools and the laborers at hand; the students are eager and ready to learn and get to work. We need your help to see our crops through to harvest. I hope you’ll join us in this investment in the future, and sow the seeds for a new generation of community gardeners.
[p.s. That's right, folks: Sunday, 1-4, rain or shine! Hope to see you there, and thanks for all of your support!]