Photo: Shawenâetanae Mosley, 19, and Joseph Doss, 16, put pepper plant starts into the ground at the new county CROPS (Community Reaps Our Produce and Shares) garden at a formerly unused parcel of lawn at the Juvenile Justice Center. Harvests from the garden will supply the Center's kitchen as well as the Oregon Food Bank.
At first Dasha Kinney didn't have much interest in planting food crops. Flowers were more to her interests. But after learning about different plants, what kind of soils they need to flourish, composting and other aspects of gardening, her view changed.
"I wanted to give back to my community," she said of the small green sprouts she helped plant that will supply the Oregon Food Bank and the Multnomah County Juvenile Justice Complex.
Kinney and four other young people are part of the county CROPS program, which seeks to turn unused land into garden space. With the help of federal stimulus dollars and a partnership with WorkSystems Inc. and the Youth Employment Institute, these so-called at-risk youth are working this summer creating and tending garden plots at the Multnomah County Juvenile Justice Complex.
Will Newman and Dan Bravin, of the County CROPS program, are helping to instruct the teens to blueprint the garden plots, lay down compost, build compost bins, transfer pant starts and other tips for creating a rich garden.
Although some of the teens were hesitant at first to work in a garden, the process soon changed their mind.
"It was really fun," Tranâesse Preston said. "My grandma wants me to come over to her garden and show her what I've learned."
Roy Washington, a CROPS manager, said he's been positively surprised at the response he's gotten from the teens.
"When I told them the contract would be up in September, even though the project would continue, they asked if they could come back and volunteer their time," he said.
Washington and others in the project hope to expand the number of youth involved.
County Commissioner Jeff Cogan says the garden plots at the Juvenile Justice Center are part of the larger County Digs program, which identifies unused county land that can be turned into community gardens.
"This is something a broke government can do," he said. As community members tend the gardens, they actually save the county on maintenance costs. Private money was raised to fund the CROPS farm in Troutdale, which helps supply the Oregon Food Bank.
"It was the easiest money I've ever raised," he said.
He says he hopes to inspire other governments and institutions to turn their unused land into gardens.