The Courthouse Garden

Students work to turn blight into bloom

The old Agripac cannery, which for decades processed the bounty of the Willamette Valley, was torn down in 2003 to make way for progress and a new federal courthouse.

But even after the Wayne Morse Federal Courthouse opened in 2006, the cannery lot remained vacant and strewn with rubble, posing a stark contrast to the gleaming, curving lines of the six-story building across the street.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken looked at the lot from her chambers and saw an opportunity to create an urban garden, a place where University of Oregon students could gain skills and where former inmates could work while they sought to get their lives back on track.

Aiken "had the vision of putting the garden in and using the garden as a connection between the city (of Eugene), the university and her Reentry program," said Lorri Nelson, an adjunct professor who teaches a class that works the garden.

The Reentry Court is a program designed to help former inmates make the transition back to society.

With support from numerous community partners, a "stone soup" approach to materials, and no small amount of sweat equity, the garden was planted last winter.

"One of the key things we want students to understand is, what are the challenges of starting an urban garden from scratch," Nelson said. "Even though the soils were poor, we had an opportunity to see large quantities of soil come in, and they got to see how much effort it takes to bring in soil and lay out beds."

Work parties spread more than a ton of leaves, 400 cubic yards of loam and 300 cubic yards of compost to create planting beds.

The university has a three-year lease on the two-acre site, which is owned by the city of Eugene. With about a half-acre in production, the garden is in full bloom this summer with potatoes, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, beans, onions, peppers, basil, berries and more in the ground.

Produce from the garden has been donated to community groups, including the Eugene Mission, Relief Nursery, HIV Alliance and Catholic Community Services.


— Contact UO Web reporter Tim Christie at