Community garden worries cemetery advocate
PORTLAND — A vacant parcel owned by Evergreen Cemetery could become a community garden, orchard and tree farm if the city approves leasing the land to a neighborhood group.
The founder of Friends of Evergreen Cemetery, meanwhile, said she is concerned that turning the cemetery parcel into a garden will prevent it from being used for cemetery expansion in the future.
Kathy Freund, a board member of Friends of Evergreen, said she thinks there is a way the empty parcel could have a community garden incorporated into it while still preserving the space for future graveyard expansion.
"I think we need to be very thoughtful and careful about this," she said. "Once everything is in and planted, it is hard to undo."
Deering Center Neighborhood Association has been hunting for land for a community garden for close to seven years, according to Elizabeth Tarasevich. After exhausting other options, including parcels near Deering High School and McCauley High School, a neighborhood association member suggested the vacant and littered parcel at the end of Brentwood Street.
The six-acre parcel includes an overgrown field near the street and a wooded area in the back. It runs adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery and has been part of the cemetery since 1942, when the city acquired the lot.
Neighborhood association members Tarasevich and Amy Bell Segal, along with Naomi Mermin, took charge of researching the lot and working with the city and other interested parties to determine if the site would work. Tarasevich said she scoured city and county records to put together an ownership and use timeline for the land, while Segal – a landscape architect – studied the land to figure out if it was usable, and if so, how.
They spoke with city arborist Jeff Tardy, whom they said was enthusiastic about the project, and also met with the city's Health and Recreation Committee and the parks advocacy group Friends of the Parks.
"Everyone we have talked to has been supportive," said Mermin. The association has a list of 30 families who have signed up for e-mail updates about the garden.
Tarasevich's research of the property led her to the Risbara family, which still runs greenhouses in Portland. In the 1930s, the family had greenhouses on the Brentwood lot.
"The land started as Brentwood Farms and will end as Brentwood Farms," Mermin said.
The Risbara's were able to share some history of the parcel with Tarasevich. Especially helpful was Grace Risbara, who Tarasevich said remembered the greenhouses growing up. She even shared a picture of herself at the farm as a child.
In addition to a community garden, Segal has developed a concept sketch for the property that includes a community orchard and a city tree farm. The tree farm would be at the back of the parcel, with the orchard and garden at the entrance on Brentwood. There would also be a wooded are preserved for play and for lot drainage.
The Deering Center Neighborhood Association is working with the city to sign a lease for the property, so unlike the city's other community gardens, which are run by the city, this one would be the responsibility of the neighborhood association.
The group has so far received a $1,000 New England Grassroots Fund grant and materials donations. Mermin said it will take about $20,000 – in monetary donations or materials – to execute the planned garden and orchard. The lease would have a clause saying that the land would go back to Evergreen to be used for expansion in the future if and when needed.
The association would like to sign a lease this spring and be able to plant a non-edible pumpkin patch so that in the fall the neighborhood can have a celebration at the new spot. They are aiming to have raised beds and new soil in and ready for planting in 2010.
However, Freund said she thinks the association is rushing the project. She would like a design plan that focuses on the future use of the parcel as a cemetery with an incorporated garden. She said she is writing a grant proposal to cover the cost of such a landscaping plan.
"The property is neglected, but it's been part of the cemetery for more than 60 years," Freund said. "For me, my interest is making sure that land really is preserved and protected. ... Cemetery space within the city proper is a scarce resource."
Freund said the board of directors of Friends of Evergreen has not taken a formal vote on the community garden proposal.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.