Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Community gardens -- Oregon -- Portland, Urban agriculture -- Oregon -- Portland


This project explores the role of the small-scale polyculture garden in promoting a resilient community, its importance in helping meet nutritional and medicinal needs, and its role as a site for civic and place-based transformative development. The pedagogical principles of sustainability education address the importance of ecological systems, biocultural diversity, social & economic justice, and multicultural perspectives. Framing the garden as a sustainable solution, I will address the need for vibrant local food networks, particularly in low-income areas; social, ecological, and community resilience; opportunities for ecological education; and increased meaningful opportunities for civic engagement. Using a conceptual framework of the garden's social and cultural relevance, commitment to valuing multicultural perspectives, and emphasis upon the validation of the subaltern cultural experience (as opposed to the dominant hegemonic cultural experience), this paper tells the story of my work developing the 2010 Multicultural Family Learning Gardens at the Learning Gardens Laboratory in Portland, Oregon. The Multicultural Family Learning Gardens provides diverse families from the Lane Middle School community with free space to garden at the Learning Gardens Laboratory (LGL), located in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood of Southeast Portland, Oregon. Free seeds, seedlings, and access to tools and other resources on site are provided. Participating families receive support to help them achieve success in vegetable gardening, and some are paired with experienced Garden Mentors-volunteers drawn from the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Master Gardener program who assist them throughout the season. Additionally, Portland State University (PSU) students assemble educational gardening materials and resources for families to use and provide volunteer coordination for the project. As project coordinator, I recruit families and support family involvement; develop guidelines and other deliverables; plan, design, and develop the gardens; recruit volunteers and coordinate their efforts; facilitate collaboration of various groups; act as a resource during drop-in gardening times for families; and serve as a contact person and source of information and support for everyone involved in the project. Through describing the process of developing this project at LGL and including details on the experiences of participants, I hope to provide a useful framework that enables continuation and evolution of this project. The insights gained will likely support similar projects across the country, given the growing interest in garden-based projects and issues related to food insecurity, hunger, and health that affect low-income and non-white populations.