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Eugene Weekly : News : 3.18.10

Donated loam piles up at the site. Photo by Trask Bedortha.

Courthouse Garden

Collaboration paying off for Eugene

By Ted Taylor

The new urban garden project next to the U.S. Courthouse in Eugene is transforming a vacant, rubble-strewn eyesore into a productive site for growing vegetables (see EW cover story, 11/5/09 and Slant last week). The garden is temporary, subject to future development on the city-owned site. 

“This is an idealistic and generous project that can serve as a model both for the community and also around the country,” says Ann Bettman, an assistant adjunct professor of landscape architecture at UO and the retired director of the Urban Farm, a model sustainable agriculture project at UO. 

The new Courthouse Garden is a public-private partnership spearheaded by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in collaboration with Bettman, Susan Posner, Dan Dingfield, Nancy Webber, Alex Gardner and others. Posner is co-owner of Lane Forest Products. Dingfield is the retired former development director and project manager for the Port of Seattle. Webber is a longtime activist and organizer who was one of the key people in Obama’s Oregon election campaign. Gardner is Lane County district attorney. Posner and Gardner are co-chairs of the garden’s steering committee. 

Individuals who want to help can show up ready to work between 10 am and 1 pm this Saturday, March 20. 

“Judge Aiken does not have small dreams,” says Bettman. “She has been looking out at this derelict land and thinking about how much food could be grown here and how she could involve her reentry program people to learn to work together and grow food.” Bettman says Aiken would also like this garden to be in full bloom by late June when she presides over the Federal Court Clerks Association national conference in Eugene. 

Bettman will be teaching a university class this spring with fellow architect Lorri Nelson, coordinating the gardening part of the project and developing the garden into a healing healthy place. Bettman says it’s unusual to have so many different businesses and government entities involved — city, county, state and federal. 

No taxpayer money is involved. “This is a ‘stone soup’ project,” Bettman says. “We run on enormous goodwill, hope and optimism.” She says she and her partner, Dan Dingfield, have been “working almost full time for the past three months” on this project. 

More than 50 UO students volunteered March 6 and again last weekend at the garden site, working the soil to prepare planting beds in the first of many work parties organized by John Duncan’s Holden Learning Center at the UO. 

In time, individuals “in-transition” within the criminal justice system will work at the garden to learn new skills and gain work experience, according to the UO Office of Communications. A sheriff’s road crew of prisoners worked at the site this week. Bettman says a small, select group of nonviolent federal offenders will be working supervised at the garden as part of Aiken’s re-entry program. 

The project was formalized by a three-year memorandum of understanding between the UO and the city of Eugene. The site could be sold and developed after that. The property could be more valuable after the nearby EWEB property is redeveloped. 

“The garden will serve multiple purposes, including the production of food that will be distributed to underserved individuals and nonprofits,” says the UO.

Aiken says the project was inspired by a presentation last year by Relief Nursery teachers, showing a video of children planting, growing and harvesting food for their families. 

Additional partners in the project include EWEB, which is providing water and power to the site along with irrigation installation. Irrigation system materials have been donated by United Pipe and Rain Bird. City trucks delivered dozens of truckloads of leaves to the site over the winter and local businesses such as Lane Forest Products, Eugene Sand and Gravel and Rexius have donated top soil. The UO has provided compost, blueberry plants have come from Fall Creek Nursery, and seeds have come from Territorial Seed Co. 

Heavy equipment to clear the site, haul in materials and distribute the soil, compost and leaves have been provided by Staton Construction (working nearby on the new I-5 bridge), The Papé Group and Lane County Public Works. 

“With all the frustrations surrounding the pits in downtown Eugene, it’s good to make something positive happen,” says Bettman. “And there’s a little of that spirit of guerrilla gardening going on here, pushing through a garden that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”