The Green Fingers Project, 1968 - 1982
The Green Fingers Project was a network of community gardens in Portland's Albina neighborhood built on land left vacant in the wake of clearance for the construction of Interstate 5 or Emanuel Hospital, both highly contested infrastructure projects that displaced hundreds of African American residents through eminent domain.
Civic leader and real estate agent Viviane Barnett spearheaded the Green Fingers project, bringing together a variety of community groups who volunteered their labor and donated seeds, plant starts, and tools. At it's height, Green Fingers had around 300 participants.
Listen to Viviane Barnett tell the story of Green Fingers during First Lady Pat Nixon's visit to Portland on June 16th, 1969.
Photos courtesy of The Oregonian. Recording courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.
May 1968 - The Green Fingers Project breaks ground with help from the Oregon National Guard. Around 250 people participate the first season. The Portland Rainmakers underwrote the cost of irrigation water with a fundraiser selling "un-common stock" in "Drizzlyland Water Shed Ltd.," of which Senator Robert F. Kennedy bought a share during a visit to Portland.
August 1968 - The first Green Fingers Harvest Festival and Garden Contest is held, featuring music, food, and prizes for the best gardens.
March 1969 - Green Fingers planners sign land use permits to continue gardening on 239,000 square feet of State Highway Department land that "awaits future freeway development" (Oregonian, 1969).
1969 - First Lady Pat Nixon visits the Green Fingers gardens on her tour of volunteer programs in Portland.
1970 - Construction of the Fremont Bridge commences, displacing the original Green Fingers garden, which moves to land owned by Emanuel Hospital.
1970 - Green Fingers inspires several offshoot garden projects throughout Portland and distributes a surplus of seeds to other gardens.
September 1972 - The re-located Green Fingers garden is bulldozed by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to prepare new storm sewers and streets for the Emanuel Hospital expansion. The garden is razed days ahead of schedule before gardeners are able to harvest their crop.
1975 - Green Fingers enters its 8th year and has inspired the emergence of around 100 community gardens throughout the city. The Portland Park Bureau now manages over 450 plots in 12 gardens in Southeast and Southwest Portland, serving around 1,500 participants.
June 1978 - Green Fingers, now in its 10th year, is forced out of their main site in the Emanuel Hospital urban renewal project area as preparation for landscaping begins. Viviane Barnett challenges the development, citing a signed letter from the PDC granting Green Fingers use of the land through October 31. “Isn’t that something?” she says, “All the money for fancy ‘landscaping.’ That’s more important than food for the people. Isn’t that ridiculous?” After the PDC refuses to negotiate, Barnett says “I just don’t have it enough to fight anymore."
1979 - Green Fingers secures two garden locations on Knott St. for its 11th year.
July 1980 - Green Fingers participation dwindles to about 20 gardeners on remaining plots on Emanuel Hospital property.
1981 - Geneva and Paul Knauls offer their property to Green Fingers growers.
1983 - Viviane Barnett passes at 79.