Accessible beds make producing produce easier for Portland’s disabled gardeners

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PORTLAND — Members of the Bloomin’ Buddies are beginning to see “the fruits of their labor” at new accessible garden beds.

This year, the Bloomin’ Buddies, which meets weekly, is growing peas, yellow squash, string beans, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, chives, basil and marigolds, which the participants are able to take home with them.

The raised beds in the North Street Community Garden are 24 inches tall, which is a good height for individuals who use wheelchairs, rollers or walkers, said Karen McPhee, the city’s therapeutic recreation program manager.

The three accessible beds, which are in various spots throughout the garden, also include seats on the corners and along the sides, which make tending them even easier for those with physical constraints, McPhee said.

The group consists of young and middle-aged adults with various disabilities, McPhee said, and while they enjoy gardening, “the space (allotted) was challenging for some individuals with regard to access.”

That’s when she approached Cultivating Community, which manages the community garden programs in the city, about building raised beds that would meet ADA guidelines to improve overall access for the participants.

Gardening is an important activity for the Bloomin’ Buddies group, McPhee said, because it teaches where food comes from and also provides a “creative outlet … (while also) offering a sense of satisfaction.”

“The Buddies are a group of gardeners who happen to have a disability,” she said.

But with the addition of the accessible beds, “I believe we have (shown that) persons with disabilities can work in the garden, enjoy the activity and be social. It shows that regardless of ability, we can all enjoy the opportunities that gardening gives us.”

McPhee also said the accessible beds “allow (our group) to be outside and enjoy the spectacular views from the East End, breathing in fresh air … and seeing the fruits of their labor.”

“As recreation therapists, we use a variety of recreation and leisure activities to give individuals with disabilities access to the (wider) community and to develop skills,” she added.

Bloomin’ Buddies initially started several years ago when McPhee got a start-up grant from the National Gardening Foundation. The grant provided seeds and $500 worth of tools.

Now she and her staff are seeing the positive impact the gardening program is having on members, particularly with the addition of the accessible beds.

Bloomin’ Buddies has about eight regular participants who follow the growing process from growing seedlings in the spring to harvesting in the fall.

Members meet on Tuesday nights at the East End Community Center and, McPhee said, “It would be nice to grow the group to have more participants.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Karen McPhee, Portland’s therapeutic recreation program manager, with one of the accessible beds at the North Street Community Garden.

Raised, accessible beds at the North Street Community Garden in Portland allows a group of residents with disabilities to enjoy the benefits of gardening.