Breaking New Ground: Cascade Urban Learning Garden

By Joe Culhane|October 10, 2018Cascade, Centers, Top Stories|

urban learning garden cover photo

The PCC Cascade Learning Garden has broken ground ~ photo by: Joe Culhane

It’s been ten years coming but it finally happened: the Cascade Urban Learning Garden has broken ground. On Thursday, September 18th, upwards of 30+ volunteers were out doing the righteous dirty work of clearing sod. Among them were students, staff, and faculty from Cascade Campus; the entire staff of the Queer Resource Center; Student Leaders of the Associated Students of Portland Community College; district sustainability team staff; and a few of the learning garden coordinators from other campuses. They all worked together to make way for the fifth learning garden at PCC. The exciting action took place on the lawn just to the East of the campus shuttle pick up/drop-off site. Soon, all Cascade shuttle riders will catch a glimpse of abundance as they step off the shuttle. Cascade was the only campus of the four without a Learning Garden so, in a way, this brings a nice balance to PCC when it comes to providing this wonderful resource to students, staff, and faculty. The new Cascade Urban Learning Garden is funded through the Eco Social Justice Grant (ESJ Grant), a Student Activity Fee (SAF) funded grant program that has been a part of PCC since 2008. It’s worth noting that The ESJ Grant, previously called The Green Initiative Fund, has now funded over $1 Million in sustainability and social justice projects, events, and initiatives since 2008. This grant in particular had a focus on highlighting food insecurity and a great deal of the food grown here will go directly to the Panther Pantry located in the Student Union Building. The Panther Pantry is open to all students (and anyone with a G#) and this is also a service supported through our Student Activity Fees. So if you are a student reading this, thank you for supporting these necessary resources.

“Grass is over-rated. Garden’s are what’s up!” Joe Culhane for The Bridge

You may be wondering right now, how this particular project has been ten years in the making? I too was curious as to why it had taken ten years for this to come to fruition. It turns out students have been asking for a garden at Cascade for a long time. They’ve even been under the impression that it was going to happen before. And yet it didn’t. This story line is filled with challenges and frustrations experienced by several student leaders and administrators who’ve championed getting a learning garden on Cascade campus. Kendi Esary, Director of Student Life and Leadership at Cascade has been privy to this journey and struggle since the beginning. You can imagine how pleased she is to finally seeing this all come together. Here’s what she had to say when I asked her about it, “The groundwork (sod removal) done by students, sustainability staff, our awesome faculty and volunteers saved thousands of dollars and brought to fruition the work of at least ten years worth of student leadership groups. The best thing about this project is the garden design was done by Paula Barreto – ASPCC, District Student Council, PCC alum and current landscape architect for PLACE. Much of her work was done pro bono because she loves PCC and the time she spent here and because PLACE allowed her to volunteer her time and expertise to this project. I love the full circle nature of this project and and I am proud of all the students who made this garden a reality!”

Students, Staff, and Faculty of PCC district wide came out to volunteer to remove the sod for the new Urban Learning Garden at Cascade
Joe Culhane for The Bridge

As mentioned earlier, this garden was funded through the Eco Social Justice Grant. I happened to have been the co-writer of the grant for this garden so it certainly has been rewarding to see it coming to fruition. The other grant writer, was last years Cascade Student Body President, Nicholas Carmack. I reached out to him and he offered this upon reflection of his experience with helping make this happen, “I learned a lot from the process of helping bring the idea of a learning garden at Cascade Campus to reality. My biggest takeaway from the process is that things don’t get done without a motivated and passionate force that will see things through. In the case of the Cascade Learning Garden, that was Kendi Esary. Just like many ideas student leaders have, without Kendi, they would certainly not happened. Not only did Kendi advise me of where to go and who to talk to, but she also took leadership on this project and brought together stakeholders from across the college. From students to administration, the Office of Sustainability to Disability Services, Kendi made sure all of the people who needed to be involved in the conversation were aware of how to get involved. I will certainly be using what I learned from her going forth whenever working on a project of this magnitude. For me, the most rewarding aspect of my involvement in this process is knowing that students will have more fresh and nutritious food at the Panther Pantry”.

Many hands make short work! So many volunteers came out to help roll up the sod and get this garden space ready! Joe Culhane for The Bridge

If you happened to be at Cascade Campus since the beginning of the term you may have seen this large, brown, rectangle of dirt. You may have wondered what is going on or why it is there. You may have taken a moment to read one of the signs informing you of what is to come with the beautifully drafted design of what the garden will one day look like. And maybe you haven’t been there because that isn’t the campus you go to. That’s also quite possible. Regardless of which of these you relate to, the fact of the matter is students at Portland Community College have come together and with the support of some great staff and faculty, helped to both fund and participate in the creation of what will soon be a wonderful addition to the landscape of the Cascade Campus.


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