Dream Center Building Garden at Nuestra Casa PDF Print E-mail

By Kaellen Hessel

Statesman Journal

The Salem Dream Center is nearing completion on a community garden that will launch its community learning center into high gear.

The Dream Center began renovating a three-bedroom house, at 924 Arthur Way NW, into a learning center a year ago. When complete, Nuestra Casa, Spanish for “our house,” will provide neighbors a place to gather and learn.

By the time the back yard is completed, it will feature picnic tables, barbecues, a playground and 35 raised garden beds.

The goal is to have garden beds finished in time to plant fall crops, but with this season’s predicted extended summer, they might be able to grow summer produce, as well, said Craig Oviatt, executive director of Salem Dream Center. He estimated volunteers will be able to begin planting in two weeks in the 11 garden beds that have already been built.

Nuestra Casa is in the Edgewater District of West Salem, which Oviatt described as “a little pocket of poverty” just a few blocks away from affluence.

“Getting food to families is crucial,” he said.

Teegan LaRochelle, 17, measures wood for a raised garden bed.
Garden beds are placed on the site of the community garden coming to Nuestra Casa, 924 Arthur Way NW.

 

The plots will be divvied up among families served by the Dream Center and nearby apartment dwellers through a lottery system. Each family will be able to use the 8-foot by 4-foot plots for free, Oviatt said. Nuestra Casa will offer gardening, cooking and canning classes too.

Putting together the back yard has been like putting together a puzzle, Oviatt said.

“We’re very pragmatic,” he said. “We do things as we have the funds.”

Planning for the project began three months ago when Teegan LaRochelle asked Oviatt, his uncle, if he knew of anything LaRochelle could take on for his Eagle Scout project, which teaches Boy Scouts leadership skills and to give back to their communities.

LaRochelle said he was drawn to the garden because his family always gardened and had fond memories of popping fresh cilantro into his mouth.

He also liked the center’s method of teaching people useful skills, instead of giving them a handout, he said.

“They can learn these skills and be able to provide food for themselves and their families,” he said.

LaRochelle created the budget, worked with a landscape architect to design the yard, organized volunteers and found a volunteer to level and clear the land.

Knowing he’d spend the summer working at Camp Meriwether, run by the Boy Scouts of America Cascade Pacific Council near Pacific City, LaRochelle tried to get as much of the project done before he left Salem at the end of June.

“He helped motivate us to keep moving,” Oviatt said.

Next steps for the garden include installing pavers, laying out the garden beds, installing a gravel path, moving the play structure, putting soil into the beds, planting grass and moving in the barbecues and picnic tables.

When the garden is finished, Oviatt said he plans on hosting an open house for the community with the hopes that after seeing their vision firsthand, people will help them provide education and mentorship in a larger capacity than they’re currently able to do.

Around $2,000 was donated to the project and an estimated $12,000 was contributed through in-kind donations, Oviatt said.

“It’s just like everywhere we go, people say, ‘We want to make this happen,’” Oviatt said.

Donations are still needed to pay for materials for the rest of the garden beds, vegetables, gardening tools, sod, a gate, barbecues and picnic tables.

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