By Lee Perlman

 

There are many other community gardens in Portland, but it’d be hard to find one with a more spectacular view than the Brooklyn neighborhood’s plot.

With panoramic views of the Willamette River, downtown and the West Hills, it’s a wonder volunteers can pay attention to tilling the 33 plots – but they do.

The 14,000 square foot garden on SE Franklin St. is an anomaly in other ways as it is not part of the Portland Bureau of Parks’ inventory of community gardens. It is on land owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation and Lee Kammas is its accidental creator.

Kammas is part of the Fruit Tree Project. This non-profit began by harvesting fruit from trees located on public land and private property whose owners agree to allow the fruit to be taken. They have gone on to plant their own trees, including several in a vacant public right of way in the NE Sabin neighborhood. Kammas thought to undertake a similar project in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile Kammas says, a volunteer with the Brooklyn Action Corps had “finagled ODOT into letting them use the (Franklin) lot – and then disappeared.” When she asked for support for creation of a new orchard, the Corps said, “Sure – and why don’t you take over this garden project too?”

ODOT officials said “absolutely not” to the notion of planting trees on the lot because they want nothing “permanent” there should they decide to reclaim it for transportation use. They did agree to let the land be cultivated free of charge.

Marcus Koontz, Andrea Miller and Lee Kammas

Marcus Koontz, Andrea Miller and Lee Kammas

Kammas had plenty of help. The project received a grant from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. Local businesses donated tools and starter plants. Adjacent property owners were very supportive and helpful, particularly Terry Brooks and Fred McNeil. Katy Scogland designed the garden and it received starter plants from the D&R Nursery. Alex Southworks is working on a mural for the garden tool shed. (This was allowed because it has no foundation.)

They planted their first crops last June, and will have their third harvest this fall.

The site has one drawback: it is just above heavily-traveled SE McLoughlin Blvd. and subject to heavier than normal air pollution. “Traffic was a concern when we looked at this, and we had one person withdraw from our waiting list because of it,” Kammas says, “but it’s such a pretty site.”