Commissioner Nick Fish Fosters Community Garden Initiative

Health outcomes will improve if people have the opportunity to grow their own fruits and vegetables

March 28, 2012 – City Commissioner Nick Fish’s initiative to make another 1,000 garden plots available to Portland residents is going strong. People who participate in this community garden project tend to have healthier diets and no longer have to rely on farm produce for fresh vegetables and fruits.

Currently there are 1,500 gardens in the Portland Community Gardens System, according to Laura Niemi, who coordinates the program for Portland Parks & Recreation. In the past year, five new community gardens were built in Portland.

“We have 2,100 names on our waiting list,” said Niemi. “And, each person can sign up for two garden locations, so there are most likely 1,050 individuals waiting for a plot.”

Portland's comprehensive plan, expected to be adopted later this year, includes support for community gardens as part of its Healthy Cities Initiative.

While little research has been done to establish a direct link between participation in community gardening and better health outcomes, people who grow their own vegetables tend to eat foods richer in leafy greens and fresh vegetables and fruit. They may also get more exercise and have a better opportunity to know their neighbors – while tending plots side by side or getting together to plant or clean up their plots.

Community gardens also make gardening accessible to people who might not otherwise have the space to grow their own food or the ability to purchase fresh produce.

Historically, community gardens – along with parks -- were built in more affluent neighborhoods, where people usually experience better health outcomes. Now city planners and public health officials are intent on helping everyone achieve the same goals, particularly low-income people, said Noelle Dobson, project director for the Oregon Public Health Institute's Healthy Eating Active Living program.

Niemi’s office offers scholarships for program fees, and partners with Oregon Tilth, which provides free classes on organic gardening.

It’s more difficult reaching new immigrants who face a language barrier, said Niemi, who’s had success working with community based organizations to spread the word about the program. “Often one English-speaking friend or relative will act as the liaison and help sign up many friends or families.”

People can also use the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP) benefits – also known as food stamps – to pay for seeds or plants that produce food.

 TO LEARN MORE:

Visit portlandonline.com/fish and click the "1,000 Gardens" tab.

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