Where most people saw an overgrown freeway-side lot, Portland State students saw restoration potential.
Several student groups recently adopted the 1/8-acre tract at SW 12th and Montgomery Streets and are preparing to plant a community orchard.
On November 18, they cut the ribbon and rolled up their sleeves to get to work. Student volunteers removed trash, pulled invasive ivy, planted the first generation of saplings, and covered the topsoil with a layer of cardboard that will foster a large colony of mushrooms. As the fungi grow, they will remove toxins and prepare the soil for edible fruit to follow.
The triangle-shaped lot is adjacent to the existing PSU Community Garden, which students from on-campus residence halls maintain. Because it hugs I-405, the Oregon Department of Transportation granted access for students to improve the land through the Adopt-A-Landscape program, which functions much like Adopt-A-Highway.
This spring, students will plant 40 fruit trees, including hardy dwarf varieties—such as honeyberry and sea berry—to economize the small space. While the trees grow to maturity, the soil will be regularly tested for toxins to ensure that the fruit will be safe to eat. Taller trees will be planted along the edge of the plot to provide a buffer from the highway.
Keith Nevison, PSU’s Student Garden Liaison and a lead on the project, hopes that the fruit will eventually help feed homeless in the PSU vicinity.
“We hope the food we grow will directly give back to the people who used to camp out and use drugs on this site,” he said.
The project is a partnership of the Sustainability Leadership Center’s student volunteer program, the Environmental Club, and the Ecological Restoration Guild.