In 1996, a committee involving Woodlawn Neighborhood Association (WNA) members and Woodlawn Elementary School teachers began meeting to plan the creation of a community garden. Leslie Pohl-Kosbau, the founder and Director of Community Gardens for Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) from 1975 to 2011, had worked with the WNA for years on this project. In November 1996, Portland Public Schools gave permission to start the garden on a parcel of land between the school and Woodlawn Park. This site was specifically chosen for its visibility and to encourage more community involvement. Initial funding for the project included a $16,000 grant from the Bureau of Housing & Community Development and a grant from the Edible Classrooms Project of the Alice Waters Foundation.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the garden site on May 22, 1997. That fall, the Park Trust Fund provided $8,100 for construction drawings of the garden. A soil test was conducted in November; that same month, PP&R installed the water meter and irrigation system.
The garden officially opened on May 8, 1998. Alice Waters was a special guest and featured speaker. In addition to the Garden Classroom, there were seventeen community garden plots. The next day, a fundraising group called 16 Girls and a Guy held “From the Ground Up,” a silent auction/dinner benefit for the garden at Water’s Restaurant in downtown Portland. This event raised nearly $40,000 to cover major garden construction costs including excavation, berm construction, and concrete work.
In October 1999, Alice Waters was back at Atwater’s for a book signing reception and dinner for her newest book, Chez Panisse Café Cookbook. Proceeds from this event helped fund the Garden Classroom, a program to teach children about healthy eating through the planting, tending, and harvesting of a garden plot. From 2008 to 2012, the community garden was home to a children’s garden program, which was launched in collaboration with the Friends of Portland Community Gardens, the Portland Trail Blazers, and Fred Meyer.
In August 2007, AVEENO® and Organic Gardening provided funding for the installation of a Thai Jar rainwater-harvesting cistern, the first of its kind in the northwestern United States. In addition to the cistern, the project included a new covered arbor that serves as a gathering and teaching space, flower boxes around the tool shed, roses for the perennial beds, and a new picnic table. At present, the Thai Jar has several cracks and is (unfortunately) in need of repair.
There are currently forty-three plots in the Woodlawn Community Garden. One plot is dedicated to Produce for People; everything grown there is donated to the St. Andrew Church food pantry on NE Alberta Street. In the summer, we also have a “free produce box” attached to the park side of the fence; neighbors strolling by can help themselves! Teachers and students from Woodlawn Elementary School continue to have a plot and also use the garden as a “classroom” for art and other projects. The garden has communal raspberries, strawberries, herbs, and fruit trees including a pear and a fig, and a native plant habitat area. As of 2019, there is now an active mason bee house, too.
Fun fact: In 2008, President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea were campaigning for Hillary and visited the Woodlawn Community Garden. They pulled weeds and posed for photographs with gardeners and neighborhood residents.