Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

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National sustainability organization AASHE awards PCC with its highest honor

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And the national sustainability award goes to…Portland Community College!

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has awarded Portland Community College the 2015 AASHE Sustainability Award for aiding students who go hungry at the college’s Rock Creek Campus.

The award recognizes how the campus has served its student population, half of which receive financial aid. Through the Rock Creek Learning Garden, college resources and AmeriCorps members, staff were able to increase access to fresh, healthy, sustainably grown food using hands-on learning opportunities, implementing incentive-based programs and using the space to teach sustainable farming practices.

“The Learning Garden provides open access that engages students in learning sustainable farming methods and collaborative problem solving,” said Sandra Fowler-Hill, Rock Creek Campus president. “It is a highly effective teaching lab that has become a focal point on our campus. It is a well deserved and prestigious honor for the college.”

Today, the garden is home to a 65-tree fruit orchard, 32 large raised beds and approximately a half-acre of row crops and areas for grapes, kiwis, blueberries, and cane fruits.

The garden is home to a 65-tree fruit orchard, 32 large raised beds and approximately a half-acre of row crops and areas for grapes, kiwis, blueberries, and cane fruits.

AASHE received 113 submissions from 84 institutions spanning three countries (U.S., Canada and Singapore) for this award.

“This validates what we strive for, which is to do innovative and important food justice work,” said Rock Creek’s Sustainability Coordinator Elaine Cole, who planned the garden’s success along with garden coordinator Nora Lindsey. “My team feels very passionate about the food we grow, soil we build, minds we educate and community we cultivate. We strongly believe that our rural campus, farm and learning garden, is in a unique position to be offering an agriculture or food systems degree program that could address the issues we are facing today.”

Established in 2007 on a 3.64 acre space where faculty, classes and community members can dabble in growing food, the garden has been developed to the point where today it functions as a working farm and produces more than 5,300 pounds of food annually. This transformation was made possible in 2010, when a master plan was commissioned and infrastructure such as raised beds, walking paths and irrigation was developed.

Today, the garden is home to a 65-tree fruit orchard, 32 large raised beds and approximately a half-acre of row crops and areas for grapes, kiwis, blueberries, and cane fruits. In addition to the crops, staff and students have built solar-powered irrigation, a cob tool shed with solar-powered irrigation, an earthen oven with a green roof, rainwater catchment systems, and installed eight beehives, mason beehives, an indoor hoop house and hydroponic growing areas for winter farming. This year, nearly 50 staff, faculty and students had access to 16 raised beds to grow their own food.

To address food insecurity on campus, staff partnered with campus food service and the Women’s Resource Center’s student food pantry to make donations, provide a weekly campus market that accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and established volunteer work opportunities for a food incentive program. The garden’s work-for-food program encourages student volunteers, who receive $5 per hour of work to buy fresh food or flowers from the Portlandia Farm Standia.

Two students seed a row in the Learning Garden. Besides developing the garden and increasing production, the Sustainability Office has brought in programs and divisions to provide community-based learning opportunities and created on-site classroom collaborations.

Two students seed a row in the Learning Garden. Besides developing the garden and increasing production, the Sustainability Office has brought in programs and divisions to provide community-based learning opportunities and created on-site classroom collaborations.

“We have collaborated with an already existing food canteen in the Women’s Resource Center on campus to bring fresh food once a week to students,” Cole added. “We are always looking for ways to partner and meet the needs of students and are doing outreach to the Veterans Resource Center and international and refugee students.”

Besides developing the garden and increasing production, the Sustainability Office has brought in programs and divisions to provide community-based learning opportunities and created on-site classroom collaborations. The garden also regularly joins forces with student government, student clubs, resource centers, and faculty to create both special events and student-centered projects that benefit the garden and the community.

As a result, the garden hosted 24 classes and 32 sustainability tours, and had more than 1,000 contact hours with students in 2014. During spring term of this year, volunteers clocked 675 hours in the garden double the previous record of 265.

“There is a growing movement for campus farms in higher education,” said AmeriCorps member Dylan Johnstone. “I believe that the Rock Creek Learning Garden is unique in its varied programs that address food insecurity with a weekly mobile farm stand, weekly donations to the Rock Creek’s Women’s Resource Center Canteen, a thriving volunteer rewards program, and a matching Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program option with no cap on spending. The Learning Garden is special because it functions as a small-scale farm.”

For the future, garden coordinators said they are planning to build a classroom structure that will be a center for beginner urban farmer training. Plus, expansion of bee and other pollinator habitat on campus is in the works.

“We hope to keep increasing production in the garden through the winter months, grow more specialty items like flowers, herbs, and fruits, and work with the new Rock Creek food lab (a demonstration kitchen) to be able to produce added-value products from what we grow in the Learning Garden,” Lindsey said. “Our long term goal is to develop for-credit sustainable agriculture classes that are based out of the Learning Garden.”

  • Today, the garden is home to a 65-tree fruit orchard, 32 large raised beds and approximately a half-acre of row crops and areas for grapes, kiwis, blueberries, and cane fruits.
  • Besides developing the garden and increasing production, the Sustainability Office has brought in programs and divisions to provide community-based learning opportunities and created on-site classroom collaborations.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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Comments

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x by Jennifer McBratney 1 year ago

Good job everyone, and what a beautiful and inspirational video!!

x by Debra Lippoldt 1 year ago

Congratulations! This is so exciting and so very impressive. Huzzah to all of you for this wonderful award!

x by Josh 1 year ago

I make sure to buy some of your beautiful, delicious veggies every Tuesday. Thank you so much for all your hard work growing such tasty treats for us all. Congrats.

x by Lutgarda Cowan 1 year ago

Congrats Elaine, Nora, and the RC Learning Garden. I was in Minneapolis to see you get the award and PCC cheered you on! Such inspiring work you do!

x by Lynne Hoyt 1 year ago

Congratulations, RC’s Learning Garden Rocks! What a wonderful achievement to win this prestigious AASHE award and be a positive model for sustainable growing to other campuses across our nation.

As a student in the Organic Gardening Biology class last spring, I personally can speak to the wealth of learning available through classroom collaboration. We learned about hands-on growing techniques, the closed loop system, the worm bin, the rocket composter, propagation, and hydroponics in the greenhouse and the new and expanding bee colony project.

All of these areas continue to play a vital role and have helped, in part, to earn this well-deserved honor for the Rock Creek Learning Garden. Thanks to all the staff, faculty, students, and volunteers who continue to make this valuable resource a shining star of sustainability for our entire Rock Creek community.

x by Chris Stewart 1 year ago

This is a wonderful opportunity for all staff and volunteers to shine….

x by Usha Ramanujam 1 year ago

Hearty congratulations to all involved. Learning Garden is absolutely a wonderful learning experience for students and staff. And I am personally a great fan of the fresh produce offered at RC throughout summer and now. Birgitte Ryslinge pioneered the learning garden idea a few years back at RC and so glad to see its progress and the award. Awesome!

x by News: Partnership with elementary school encourages students to get dirty hands, ask questions | PCC 11 months ago

[…] service and provide opportunities for interactive learning. The hands-on part takes place in the Learning Garden on the Rock Creek Campus. Once a week, beginning last September, the students walk from Springville K-8 School next door to […]

x by News: Rock Creek’s Learning Garden grows fruiful campus collaboration | PCC 9 months ago

[…] Recently, the garden helped PCC win a national sustainability award. […]

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