Sherwood’s only community garden is next to the fire station. Until recently, it was a vacant triangle of land, but now it’s now home to 34 garden beds, with picnic tables and a children’s garden. Local Eagle Scouts have added plants to attract bees and butterflies. There’s also a Little Free Library. The firefighters’ plot – closest to the station – includes tomatoes and butternut squash that will feature in crew meals.
Gardeners are a mix of apartment dwellers and homeowners, says garden manager Tammy Steffens. “We get lots of grandmas and granddads,” she says, adding that people exchange tips, try new vegetables such as kohlrabi, and water each other’s plots during vacations.
The garden came to life thanks to a $40,000 grant funded through fees collected at the Pride Recycling Depot about a mile and a half away. Grants like these are part of a Metro program that provides communities that live near transfer stations and disposal sites with opportunities to improve their neighborhoods.
Grants started in the 1980s and expanded two years ago
Apply for a Metro Central grant
On July 17, Metro will begin accepting applications for community enhancement grants for projects in Northwest Portland. A committee of local residents promote, review, and select projects.
The community enhancement grant program was created in 1986. Metro, which manages the garbage and recycling system in greater Portland, added a fee of 50 cents on each ton of trash delivered to the region’s transfer stations: at the time, Metro Central in Northwest Portland, Metro South in Oregon City and the Forest Grove transfer station.
The aim was to provide communities surrounding garbage facilities with a way to counter some of the impacts of those facilities – what Metro Councilor Sam Chase sums up as “trucks, traffic, trash falling off.” In the years since the program began, Metro has invested $5 million in projects, ranging from frog pond restoration to emergency overnight housing, that improve economic, social and environmental conditions near garbage facilities.
In 2015, the program expanded. Metro Council raised the fee for the first time in 27 years – from 50 cents to $1. The new fee was then assessed at the three original facilities and on four more that have opened in the decades since the community enhancement program was created.
Wilsonville, Sherwood and Troutdale, which all have newer transfer stations, received their first community enhancement funds in 2015 and Gresham will be included this year. Roy Brower, Metro’s solid waste information, compliance and cleanup director, says it was a question “of being equitable and consistent in the treatment of communities that host these facilities.”
“Funds should go to all those communities,” Chase says. “There had to be fairness in who sees the benefits.”
Communities choose where the money goes
Brower explains that Metro collects the fees and distributes funds, and local governments have the option of running their own grant process or having Metro administer it. Metro councilors serve on their jurisdiction’s grants committees. And community members – serving on each jurisdiction’s grants committee – who decide how to spend the money.
“(The process) empowers communities to make their own decisions – and it’s a great example of participatory budgeting,” says Chase. And, he says, “the process allows us to understand the important priorities for communities and how to address them.”
“Local communities all come at it from a different angle,” Brower says.
In Wilsonville, for example, public affairs director Mark Ottenad says that “having flexibility in designing our own program is beneficial for everybody.” Their grants committee has encouraged projects that feature public-private partnerships.
So when Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, who manages a company that leases property to small businesses noticed that places like local warehouses and tanning businesses had no good solution for dealing with spent fluorescent bulbs – “most people just toss ‘em” – it sparked an idea.
The city offered local businesses a box for recycling bulbs – with pre-paid shipping and recycling costs – along with information about how mercury harms the environment. In two months they had distributed 111 boxes.
The money came from a Metro community enhancement grant, funded through fees at Willamette Resources Transfer Station in Wilsonville. The city is now looking at ways to advance this pilot project.
“We focus on leveraging other funds and magnifying impact,” says Ottenad.
Take the project to improve pollinator habitat in the city. This became an urgent local issue in 2013 after pesticide spraying in a Wilsonville parking lot killed about 50,000 bumblebees.
The $21,000 from the community enhancement grant for the Bee Steward project, when combined with an additional $52,000 from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and other sources, expands the scope of the project: two acres of pollinator habitat will be created on city-owned property, an integrated city pest-management plan will be developed and residents and business owners can learn about pollinators and their habitats.
Beverly Maughan, executive assistant to the city manager in Forest Grove, says that in its nearly 30 years in action, the grant program has supported projects ranging from hanging flower baskets along the main street to sending children home with backpacks of food for the weekend. The annual chalk art festival is a community favorite. Deciding how best to allocate funds, has, she says, been an evolving process, and these days the committee gets far more requests than they can possibly fund.
“Unlike Forest Grove, we don’t have huge numbers of applications from outside organizations yet,” says Sherwood city manager Joseph Gall. He knows that time will come. “Metro made a good decision in looking at all the garbage facilities and leveling the playing field,” Gall says. “We’re all happy they did this.”
Sherwood’s committee has awarded one round of funding so far. Projects include signs to promote the city’s art walk. And of course, there’s that community garden. “That’s’ been a big hit,” says Gall. Such a big hit that there’s already a waitlist for plots. On the slate for the next round of grant funding? Adding another 16 beds.