PORTLAND — Community gardens were established in the city to give residents a chance to work the soil and grow fresh produce to put on the dinner table.
After all, when it comes to the increasing preference for local food, it can’t get much more local than what’s grown down the street.
That’s also part of the rationale behind a proposal to let community gardens run produce stands a couple of days a week selling fruit and vegetables grown in the city to residents of the neighborhoods where they are grown.
A proposed zoning change to allow the stands was approved this week by the Portland Planning Board and will be forwarded to the City Council for final action.
The request was spurred by Cultivating Community, a nonprofit group that manages the Boyd Street Urban Farm in Bayside/Kennedy Park and runs training farms around the state.
The Boyd Street spot “is both a garden and a classroom,” said Craig Lapine, the group’s executive director.
While the garden can teach neighborhood residents and schoolchildren how food is grown, allowing it to be sold on site helps complete the circle, giving urban farmers insight into pricing and how to sell what they raise, he said.
The proposal generally would limit the produce stands, which would operate only during growing season, to food grown on-site. But nonprofits — such as Cultivating Community — could sell food grown at other sites, such as training farms.
Lapine said that could help support immigrants whom Cultivating Community is aiding through Fresh Start Farms — training farms where farmers raise and sell their own crops.
Joan Perkins, the city’s community garden coordinator, said she doesn’t expect the produce stands to affect most gardeners who rent plots to raise fruit, vegetables and flowers. Most city garden plots are about 10 feet by 15 feet, she said, and rent for $35 a year.
If people have excess produce, she said, there are bins at the gardens for them to share the produce with other gardeners or community members. “I don’t think anyone has ever mentioned selling it,” she said.
Leslie Pohl, who rents a plot in the city’s Clark Street garden in the West End, said a produce stand “is an interesting idea,” although she may not want to put the time or effort into selling her own produce.
Pohl grows zucchini, peas, beans, tomatoes, chard, kale and a few other items, spending a couple of hours a week tending the plants. Although selling the produce may not appeal to her, Pohl said it might be fun for neighborhood kids.
Mary Marsters, who worked in her plot in the North Street Community Garden on Wednesday, said she was unaware of the proposal but would support the idea.
She said she would donate some of her produce if a stand were to operate at the North Street Community Garden.
But others aren’t so sure the idea is a good one.
Nini McManamy, who has a plot in the North Street Garden in the East End, noted in a letter to the Planning Board that people who work in the community gardens never got any notice about the proposed rule change and they should have had a chance to discuss it before it began working through the city’s approval process.
She said space in the gardens is limited, and setting aside even a small area for a produce stand would cut into the amount of land available for cultivation. In addition, she said, people who come to buy produce at the stands could cause parking problems.
McManamy said the gardeners often donate some of what they’ve grown to food pantries and soup kitchens, which is more “in the spirit of community gardening” than selling the produce.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]