Spring is officially here: so what if we’ve scarcely broken 60 degrees yet, the days are long again and the landscape swells daily. It’s not yet clear what the Children’s Gardening Program at Woodlawn will be like this year, but at least for that I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I’m not out in the cold and gray, teaching uniformed children in the mud all day. I mean, I do miss my job, but not so much the waiting-out-the-hailstorm-in-the-shed -when-classes-cancel part. So even if I’m not working yet, at least I’m warm and dry.
Other developments… I am now officially certified as a School Garden Coordinator, the most excellent training I’ve encountered since entering this field:
And last month we had another humble but I say successful work party at the Woodlawn Children’s Community Garden:
(These photos are of the same corner but from different vantage points~note the red car)
Again we focused primarily on the front area of the garden, what’s most visible, and started working our way back. We pulled lots of weeds and planted some peas, radishes and a few different greens (interestingly, we’re out of spinach and carrot seeds because they were both so popular last year!).
Things went well, although it admittedly underscored for me how much more work it is to maintain a garden in this manner! The sun may still be hiding most of the time, but those weeds are in full-tilt growth mode, and many have already gone to seed. The difference between organizing a work party from home as a volunteer versus as an employee/teacher with weekly on-site interactions with your target audience… well, it’s notable. I’m pretty pleased with the work we were able to do on that drippy afternoon, all told, and thanks to everyone who came out to help! There are little sprouts popping up all over the place now.
And: the next work party is this next Sunday, the 17th, 1-4pm, so mark your calendars!
Thanks also to everyone who’s voiced their support for the Children’s Program at Woodlawn in recent months. Within a week of my last post, I was called in for a meeting downtown with my former boss from Community Gardens and with her direct supervisor from Parks. I learned that Commissioner Fish’s office secured $6,500 from the PP&R scholarship fund to provide one-time finances for a shortened version of the Children’s Gardening Program at Woodlawn, which they intend to run from June through October.
I am extremely grateful–not only for the funding the Commissioner and his team have secured, but for the efforts of all the neighborhood community members, families, businesses and participants on behalf of the Children’s Gardening Program. We really did achieve something, and the Commissioner has held true to his word. You all deserve tremendous thanks and celebration.
I am somewhat concerned, admittedly, about the logistics of the plan to start in June. In my experience with this position over the past several years, my start date has varied from as early as late-January to as late as May and June. And I can speak from this experience as to the tremendous impact of an early start, particularly with respect to the important metrics, i.e. # of participants, lbs. of food, etc., and the ability to track them meaningfully. My suggestion at the meeting was to let my position start back up right away, so I can use my new skills from the training to work on developing a gardening committee, organize a fundraiser as we’ve done in the past, and fill the gap to provide as full of a program as possible given that it’s already April, several months behind schedule.
Allow me to elaborate:
–School gets out in June, and families typically have set plans for summer activities by that time; by (re-)developing relationships with students and families through the spring, they are much more likely to set aside time to remain involved in the garden throughout the summer and subsequent fall.
–Partnerships with teachers have been strongest and most numerous in the spring; most of the teachers I’ve worked with in the fall were ones that began in the previous spring. The most significant number of participants we’ve had (up to 200 students per week) occurred during the past two spring sessions (when my position started in February), including in-school and after-school participants as well as guest volunteer groups and field trips planned early in the season.
–Planning/planting for fall and winter crops begins in June, and it’s often too late to plant many summer crops at that point as well; the amount and cultural appropriateness of food we’d be able to produce and provide to families in need would be significantly reduced by starting in June.
–This is what the rest of the garden looks like right now (and this is after two work parties and a fair amount of volunteer help) :
…And we’re barely into spring yet! It’s really pretty remarkable how much constant attention a space like this requires, and how quickly nature takes back what is not claimed. I went by the garden this weekend because it was sunny for a little bit, and I must admit it’s shocking to see the garden in this state. Part of me wants to just put in the work myself, but in all honesty all that work can’t really be done effectively by one volunteer, however passionate or well-connected. To pick it back up in June though could be harder still. You need a person there regularly to keep a pulse on the land, keep participants engaged and invite others to participate. I’ve never seen the space so sloppy or unproductive, and it’s a bit of a shock to see the hard maintenance work we achieved over the last few years so quickly undone. I know the neighborhood takes a lot of pride in the bounty and beauty they’ve come to see in that garden in recent years, and wonder what they think it means that it’s fallow now.
My suggestion, which I think is logically and logistically sound, is to let the program (i.e. the program coordinator position) start soon, as in right away. That way we could resume partnerships with the students and teachers and families at Woodlawn and build up their enthusiasm with the spring… we could all together much more easily whip the garden back into shape, and have crops ready to harvest before school gets out. I’d also be able to recruit far more participants, engage more volunteers, and grow a significantly more food–and not just more food, but things like tomatoes, beans, peppers and okra that are culturally appropriate to members of that community. And my thought too was that if we could get that early start, we’d easily have time to organize another fundraiser, set a specific fundraising goal, and fill the gap on our own so we could still provide close to the full program. To start things six weeks earlier would require less than $2,000 in fundraising on the neighborhood’s end–something we’ve done three times already.
I explained my concerns and suggestions at the meeting, nearly a month ago now, and in subsequent emails, and follow-up calls along the command chain–but have not heard anything back, yea or nay. When last I checked in with the Community Gardens office, both of the staff people I know have to interview for their jobs this next week, and I wonder the degree to which this transition may be a contributing factor.
So there we have it…good ol’ Portland spring, true to form: blue skies out of one window, hailstorm out the other. The bees are back, the birds are singing, every day seems to uncover some long-forgotten color and scent. It’s blissfully warm in the sun and shiver-frigid in the shade. But the days are longer every day. Slowly and surely, things are growing out there.