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The Porter Park Community Garden is beginning to come to life.

The space, which is located three blocks east of Main Street off Russell Drive, opened this spring with 14 garden beds, 30 raised stone planting beds, and six raised cedar beds which are accessible to those in wheelchairs.

On Wednesday, June 12, Lebanon resident Brenda Baumen was among those working at the garden despite the early morning heat. The group was working under the direction of master gardener Sheryl Casteen, who is overseeing the garden for the city.

Baumen said she is semi-retired and was looking for a healthy hobby.

“I’d never gardened before in my life. In February, I took her six-week organic gardening class, which was fabulous, and now I’m hooked, absolutely hooked. I was the first person to rent a box,” Baumen said. “Lebanon is becoming so cool. I’ve been here seven years and the changes that have happened have just been wonderful.”

Some might worry that it is too late in the year to put in a garden. Casteen said that isn’t a problem.

“It’s not too late to come and get started,” Casteen said. “Look at all the plants I’ve got here. Baby broccoli, Brussels sprouts … Cinderella pumpkins and sunflowers. You actually, in this area, can plant through August and if you do plant Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, the cold weather plants, you can harvest through December.”

Casteen said she will put row covers over the beds in the fall to help the plants stay warmer. They may also install the row covers earlier if a storm with high winds is expected.

For summer plants, Casteen said it is not too late to plant tomatoes, potatoes, green beans and peppers.

“I have onion starts over there, corn – corn loves the heat, any of the squashes love the heat,” Casteen said.

Andy Boyer, of Kalispell, Montana, and Tory Starzyk, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., recently finished their first years of medical school at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest (COMP-NW). They are among the 10 COMP-NW students volunteering with Casteen to fulfill their community service commitments as students.

Boyer said he knew nothing about gardening and wanted to learn more about the process from beginning to end.

“Sheryl has been a great mentor in that,” Boyer said. “Nutritionally, it’s great. I wanted to be able, potentially, to make my own food and this is the first step in trying to do that.”

Starzyk said volunteering with the garden made sense simply as a chance to go outside.

“We don’t spend a lot of time outside as medical students so this is an opportunity to get out in the sun,” Starzyk said.

Medical school students aren’t the only volunteers. Sandi Mitchell also took the gardening class in February and was looking for an opportunity to practice new skills.

“I have a lot to learn and this seemed like a good way to do it,” Mitchell said. “I’m new to Oregon, new to the community and so I’m interested in meeting people.”

The city set a $25 fee for garden spots. That fee covered the cost of the plot, plus supplies and support from the master gardener. But thanks to a donation from Jacob’s Ladder Tree Tech, that fee has been covered for this year’s gardeners and there is no charge for a plot.

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