Riverbend Organic Garden
by Caroline Lewis
Riverbend in the spring, seen from the Amber quadrant.
Over the past three years, Verdura Culinary Gardens has built nearly 150 raised beds and maintained more than 30 gardens per year. Of all of these, our favorite by far is Riverbend Organic Garden.
Installed in July 2009, the garden is dedicated to feeding hungry families who are participants in local food bank Birch Community Services' program. In addition to providing food for some of the nearly 800 families that participate in the program, the garden serves as an open-air classroom where we teach people to garden organically. Many of these families now grow their own vegetables at home.
The garden's installation and maintenance have been generously funded by an anonymous local homeowner. The site is a 50' x 50' area in a relatively rural area south of Portland that we excavated and filled with 20 raised beds in four quadrants. Each quadrant - amber, black, green and blue - is identified by the colorful glass caps we use on its corner posts. Each quadrant features four 4' x 10' x 12" raised beds as well as one of our signature 4' square Mayan pyramids.
The Mayan pyramids are filled with bee- and butterfly-attracting flowers such as echinacea, dwarf lavender and scabiosa as well as herbs including parsley, chives and basil. The remaining raised beds are planted in a wide variety of vegetables throughout our growing season, starting in March and finishing in mid-October. Many plants - onions, broccoli and garlic, for example - over-winter and are harvested the following spring.
At the start of each growing season, we meet with BCS leadership, program participants and garden volunteers to determine what we'll grow that year. We choose vegetables that are nutritious (such as kale, chard, green beans), productive (carrots, peas), well adapted to our climate and popular (tomatoes, basil, potatoes and bell peppers). Many of these are vegetables that BCS participants cannot normally afford and really appreciate.
The garden is entirely organic, including seeds, plant starts and all gardening methods. In addition to the 20 raised beds, we have built a large three-bin composter and are now producing our own compost to feed the soil.
Each Wednesday morning, Verdura staff members meet with between two and ten volunteers, usually BCS program participants, who help us plant, harvest and maintain the garden. As we work, we answer volunteers' gardening questions and teach them organic gardening methods.
In our 2010 season - despite challenging weather conditions - the Riverbend garden produced more than 1,500 pounds of organic produce for BCS. We are hoping to top that number this year, aiming for 1,800 pounds by the end of the season.
The community garden