The Rock Creek Campus of Portland Community College opened in 1976 on farmland in rural Washington County, Oregon. Fast forward to 2017 and that farmland still remains, as those rural beginnings would prove to have a lasting impact on the campus, even as the school added more buildings to fit more students in more programs.

Rock Creek is now home to an expansive and successful garden featuring sustainable agriculture practices thanks in part to the land it was founded upon. Students, staff and the local community have grown the site into a fully-functioning garden, serving as an outdoor classroom of sorts, they call the Learning Garden.

pcc rock creek learning garden

Rock Creek’s Learning Garden was a result of increasing interest and enrollment in the Biology Department’s Organic Gardening course.

In 2005, the college hired the first Sustainable Practices Coordinator at the Rock Creek Campus. Concurrently, the Learning Garden started to take root as interest grew among students and the campus administration.

“Over the years, the Learning Garden has gained institutional support, expanded the variety of crops grown and has increased in size to the current 3.6 acres. Currently our thriving, working garden serves as a curricular tool integrated into many academic disciplines on campus, as a community-based learning site for many classes and as a vital hub for health wellness and connection to our environment.” – Kelly Marks, Coordinator of Rural Initiatives

The Many Seeds of the Learning Garden

The Learning Garden promotes its two core values, sustainable agriculture and education, through food production and consumption. Students have vast and various opportunities to get involved, highlighted by some of the examples below.

  • Composting – Waste from office areas and the cafeteria is collected and composted through a variety of means including a vermicomposting system (worm bins). The resulting compost is returned to the garden and used as a soil amendment, contributing to a healthy, hearty harvest.
  • Learning Garden Orchard – Recently expanded to nearly 70 trees, The Learning Garden Orchard includes apples, Asian pears, figs, nectarines, pears and more. The expansion has enabled new learning experiences for students who work in the garden and consumers of the produce.
  • Portlandia FarmStandia – The produce harvested from the Learning Garden is available for the campus community to purchase at the seasonal weekly farm stand, Portlandia FarmStandia. Recipes are also available to promote customers to try new foods.
  • Dining Services – The Learning Garden partners with the college’s Dining Services to provide produce for catering jobs on its campuses. Food from the garden is highlighted with informational signage as well as included as an option on the catering menus.
  • Seeds to Supper – A free six-week beginner gardening series focuses on learning how to grow your own vegetables on a budget. Participants also learn about sustainable gardening practices, crop selection and garden maintenance, and how to prepare their own harvest.
pcc rock creek learning garden

The Learning Garden staff adheres to pesticide and herbicide-free garden practices including using only natural soil amendments and pest controls.

Students can get involved in the Learning Garden in a variety of ways, from class projects to work study programs. There’s even a “Volunteer for Veggies” program in which each hour worked earns a $5 credit toward food from Portlandia FarmStandia.

The garden has grown at such a rate that it now reaches out to K-12 students. Teachers in local school districts can apply for field trip experiences where students learn about sustainable gardening practices and sample produce harvested from the garden. You can read about one of their recent collaborations with the Beaverton School District.

The Learning Garden continues to create relationships, provide opportunities to Rock Creek’s local community and, similar to the campus’ rural beginnings, lay a foundation for sustainable agriculture education.

pcc rock creek learning garden

The annual Earth Week Learning Garden Work Party saw over 30 volunteers in the garden on this sunny day.

Check Out Our Other Sustainability Features

The Fill covers various sustainability related programs and events. Check out our recent feature on The University of Louisville’s BikeShare Program if you’re looking for something related to this piece. Also, reach out to me at danielj@budgetdumpster.com if you are a part of a sustainability program that may be worth highlighting. I’d love to hear from you.