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UO’s Gardens Grow Post-Courthouse

UO’s decades-old urban farm program didn’t sprout overnight, but the university’s various farm projects are now growing fast. In addition to the 1.5 acre Urban Farm north of Franklin Boulevard, it added sites on Columbia and Moss Streets in 2012. The Service-Learning Program started a farm at Edison Elementary School in the Fairmount neighborhood.

Farm Director Harper Keeler says that the sites on Columbia and Moss Streets will allow more students into the burgeoning urban farm program while adding harmony to the changeover area between the university and the rest of the Fairmount neighborhood. “I turn away literally hundreds and hundreds of students every year because they can’t fit into the class,” he says.

Most students in the class are the fourth-year seniors who register first, Keeler says, and while no major or program requires the course, students from more than 93 different disciplines have taken it over the past decade. “This transcends interest groups and skill sets. Everyone wants to know how to grow food and work outside and work in the community.”

The garden at Moss Street, known as “The Grove,” has a three-year memorandum of understanding with UO, while the “Columbia Green” has a five-year memorandum. Keeler says this could allow UO to physically expand in the future while making use of its current space in the meantime. “The university planning department is working hard to create a graceful transition between university-owned properties and privately owned properties,” he continues. “We’re using this green space idea, but we’re adding a food-production feel to it.”

Among the first projects at the Columbia Green is Project Tomato, a collaboration between campus dining services and First Year Programs. “Freshmen are going to harvest tomatoes and learn how to make pizza sauce and host a local food dinner with it,” Keeler says. Students eat the food that they grow as “direct feedback,” he says, but any extra produce would be donated to local nonprofits.

Local architect and UO instructor Lorri Nelson, who was an instrumental part of the now-dismantled Courthouse Garden, founded the School Garden Project with fellow architect Robin Seloover as part of the College of Education’s Service-Learning Program. The garden will teach UO students about school gardens and elementary school students about food and gardening in general.

Elements of the Courthouse Garden, including its soil and tools, were removed from the site and are now used in other sites, such as UO gardens and FOOD For Lane County’s Grassroots Garden. “The energy that was harnessed at the Courthouse Garden and transforming that site has been reincarnated elsewhere,” Keeler says. “The phoenix is rising over at Edison.”