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For decades, a forlorn half-acre vacant lot covered by an 8-foot wall of Himalayan blackberries and unknown hidden debris, remained a nuisance site for illegal dumping and illicit activity. Tucked away along a gravel road adjacent to the Springwater Corridor in the West Lents Floodplain, the site was given to the Bureau of Environmental Services by Multnomah County to be used for stormwater management. No longer needed for that purpose, but unable to be sold or developed, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s sustainable food program thought the property could be put to good use.
“While the site didn’t seem suitable for annual crops, it became clear that an orchard or food forest that could also serve as a community gathering space would be a great option,” said Steve Cohen, food policy and program manager for BPS. “But, it was going to take a strong community partnership with neighbors who shared the vision and were up for a challenge.”
A 2012 walk through the surrounding neighborhood led Cohen to a serendipitous meeting with a gardener and many neighborhood gatherings. As a result, the property was transferred to BPS and was leased to Green Lents, a non-profit founded to engage the Lents community in developing a more livable, thriving place. Green Lents secured over $200,000 worth of donations and grants, including one from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The agency funded an environmental assessment and brought in a herd of goats to clear the land. With additional support from Business Oregon, 248 tons of refuse and soil were removed and the site was awarded a “No Further Action” designation.
Many work parties later, the Malden Court Community Orchard was officially opened on a rainy Saturday in September. Neighbors noted that the transformation will not only provide food and a community gathering space, but also improves public safety, benefits the Johnson Creek watershed, provides educational opportunities, and increases neighborhood livability for the diverse community surrounding the orchard.
“Thanks to the hard work of volunteers, partners, and funders, the site is being transformed into a food forest full of fruit-bearing trees, shrubs and native plants, said Alison Hilkiah, Lents resident and MCCO committee member. “We are so happy to have space that will help our community emotionally, physically, and psychologically.”