Hatch Living Wall Build: Lessons Learned while Creating Community

Hatch Living Wall Build: Lessons Learned while Creating Community

On Saturday, March 8th, Ingenuity Innovation Center descended on Hatch in Portland, OR to build and install a community designed and sourced living wall structure.  Nearly 30 people gathered to learn about the design and help assembling it for install while also learning about what Ingenuity and Hatch are all about; community innovation and empowerment.

The project was first discussed back late in 2013 when Ingenuity Innovation Center had first discovered that a sister version of their project was being created and built in inner NE Portland.

“One of our advisory board members told us about Hatch.  After doing some rooting around on the internet, we found some folks to contact and eventually made our way in to connect,” commented Kate Wildrick.  “After our field trip there, we instantly saw that this could be a wonderful partnership.  After owning and operating a town in Central Oregon and being a part of economic development there, I realize that there are many barriers to getting access to resources that may be more readily available and prevalent in urban areas.  What we instantly saw with Hatch and our innovation model was that we both compliment one another even though we have slightly different approaches.  We both felt that by working together that we could bring resources to one another that would help rural and urban social innovation and economic development.”

Nearly 30 people got involved to learn how to build their own living wall designs by coming to the event.

“Many people who support Ingenuity Innovation Center are from Portland,” stated Aaron Imhof.  “We constantly get asked when we will be in Portland next so that others can meet up with us and share ideas or work on projects we have started together.  It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to see about getting space at Hatch, because not only would it allow us access to our Ingenuers, it would also allow us to cross-pollinate ideas.”

Hatch and Ingenuity Innovation Center decided to do a build around a living wall design in exchange for space 5 times a month at Hatch.  Ingenuity agreed that the wall would be designed and installed by community.  Aaron Imhof designed a sketch mock up of the build given community input and feedback.  From there, a parts list was created and then put out on the website for people to see and crowd source.

“We were absolutely stunned to see how much community participation went into this project,” stated Rosemary Imhof.  “People from all over stepped forward to bring their resources, tools and knowledge to help create this wall.  Even our local Ace Hardware donated to the project.  I am so proud to live here and be a part of the St. Helens Community.  It feels good to know that we do have community that recognizes we are doing good things to help people.”

The total value of the wall (without design and labor costs) is estimated at approximately $925.00.  Almost all of the materials needed for the build were donated by Ingenuers, however there were some big ticket items that were given to make the project a huge success.  An anonymous Ingenuer custom built stainless steel braces that were valued at $600.  These high quality braces secured and attached the tier system.

Columbia County Ace Hardware donated 40 feet of 4″ PVC that was used to hold the two tiers of plants.

“I was pretty nervous calling the owners at Ace Hardware to see if they would be willing to contribute to the project,” stated Kate.  “The week before, we thought we had some PVC sourced in Sherwood at Heart 2 Heart Farms.  After Aaron went out there, it was concluded that the PVC was not going to meet the structural standards of what we need. Although we made a new friends there, we were back to square one at nearly last minute to meet the deadline.  The owners at our local Ace Hardware were amazing.  They listened to who we were, what we were creating and how it would benefit our local community and they graciously said yes to helping.  This is truly the magic of living in small towns.  Most likely, this would have not happened in an urban area.”

Aaron Imhof works to prepare materials for the installation.

Days before the official build and install, several participants stepped forward to help prep the materials and finalize the details about assembly and set up.  Stan Joseph, one of Ingenuity’s Ingenuers stepped forward in offering up his garage, tools, time and expertise that was conveniently located near Hatch.  The night before the install, Stan, Aaron and Upgeya Pew (Ingenuity’s Advisory Board Member) prepped PVC to hold the plants and create the drip irrigation that would water the plants.  Together they constructed the irrigation system that involved 1/2″ PVC and 1/2″ black poly with emitters coming out at designated locations.

The morning of the build, Ingenuers, Anna Beckwith and John Garner offered up their home, plants and assistance in separating plants out in small containers for the living wall.

Anna Beckwith and Kate Wildrick prepare plants for the living wall.

“We had a great time working out in the front yard with this part of the project,” stated Anna.  “I love gardening, and anything that I can do to get my kids excited about the outdoors and community projects is exciting.  It was amazing to see that we had the perfect amount of plants and baskets to help with the build.  I know that I couldn’t wait to come down to see what it would look like.”

At 1 PM, the doors opened up for the event.  People as far away as Vancouver and St. Helens came to attend. Kate and Aaron welcomed everyone to the build and gave a brief overview of Ingenuity Innovation Center and explained how the living wall project started out by pointing to a DIY living wall pallet build.

Stan Joseph builds a DIY pallet design that inspired the whole living wall creation.

“Hatch initially wanted to do some kind of living wall to have in the space,” commented Aaron.  “One of our Ingenuers, Laurie Oliver, found an idea online.  Although we did not elect to go with this design, we did create one based on the instructions provided [click here to see].  We learned a lot from this experience and found easier ways to do it.  We are sure that this living wall build will also be a teacher.  We have learned that anytime you do a project, you learn something.  That is what Hatch and Ingenuity are all about. We work to create a safe space to try and blunder so that together we can learn and share what we experience with others.  We invite you to discover what Hatch and Ingenuity are up to and get involved.”

Simon Love, Project Manager at Hatch, followed up next to welcome everyone who attended.  “We are so grateful to have everyone down here for this event.  There is a lot happening and we are working with some really exciting companies and people who want to make a difference in our community and region.”  Simon took interested people on a tour to discover the types of companies and resources Hatch had to offer.

Even though the event went from 1 PM to 4 PM, the build and install took nearly seven hours to complete to get holes tapped, the structure assembled and secured.  The event provided people a way to ignite their curiosity about Hatch’s space and discover how the partnership between both organizations would bring lots of creativity and resources to anyone who is passionate about creating a sustainable world.  Many people helped with the assembly process.  Others connected with other like minds and helped out replanting another living wall structure.

At approximately 5 PM, the plants were placed into the living wall.  People who had stuck around to see the finished product cheered on as the rest of the system was secured.

Several people worked to help assemble the wall for install.

“Look at the baby plants!,” exclaimed Amy Pearl, Director of Hatch and Springboard Innovation.  “This is so exciting and amazing to see it come together.  It looks amazing!  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the businesses here will have to say about it.”

That evening, a group of people who had stayed around for the entire build were invited over to a special celebratory home cooked dinner with new and old friends.  The evening was filled with lots of great conversation and discussion about how the build went.   Many commented on how the wall really brought people together in developing ideas and working on solutions.

Daniel Doherty who attended the workshop and dinner commented on how he was new to Portland.  “I had no idea that stuff like this was going on.  I have traveled all over the country volunteering for various farms and permaculture projects.  I decided to stay here for a while because so much is happening in the Pacific Northwest that I just want to learn more.  I can’t wait to get out and help at Ingenuity and learn more about what Hatch is doing.”

Even though the build and install on the event day went off without a hitch, that wasn’t to say that issues didn’t arise out of the community build.  Here are the lessons we learned together.

Lessons Learned

1. Even when you think you have all of your bases covered, something always gets missed.

As with any community build, having multiple people contribute into the design and development process can add extra time and at times be tedious.  However, the benefit to having other minds working on the same issues gives people a chance to catch the things others might miss.  There were three clear examples of this that emerged through the build.

The Irrigation System

The first issue surfaced when the team returned to Hatch the next day to finish hooking up the irrigation and assist in the clean up process.  After hooking up the pump and turning on the water, watched as water begin to drip from various locations.   It was quickly determined that the drip system that was full of flaws.

“It was clear we had 36 fail points.  Using 1/2″ black poly with emitters is the issue,” concluded Aaron.  “The black poly is rigid.  When you put the emitters through it, there is no way that they are sealed up which will cause it to leak.  When you use this system outdoors, it is not a problem. Who care’s if extra water gets into the plant, but in this living wall, it is going to cause problems.”

The team replaced the black poly to a 1/4″ flexible tubing.  This resolved the issues and allowed the system to function properly.

The Pressure Regulation

Two days later, the team received a call from Hatch that many of the plants in the system were dying.  After taking a closer look, it appeared that the culprit was a second pressure regulator that was installed was restricting too much water from getting to the plants.  As  a result 95% of the plants were not getting water or nutrition.  Once the pressure regulator was removed, the system delivered the proper amount of water to the plants.  All the plants made a full recovery and are thriving.

The Timer

The last issue that arose after the install was around the automatic timing system that runs the pump.  The timer was set up to water the plants once a day for 15 minutes.  The timer failed, causing most of the water to be pumped out of the tank and spill out of the system onto a facade below where lighting and air condition are located.  After reviewing many timers, it was decided by Hatch that the best way to avoid causing costly damage was to set up a system where they would water it by themselves.

2. There is good in having the courage to try even though you may not have all the steps figured out.

Upon accepting the challenge to design and build a living wall, we turned to people who we knew who might be able to help.  There were countless reasons many people gave to not to do it.  From safety, liability, and down to the fact that we had no previous experience, there were many that strongly encouraged to say no.  There was no doubt that these words and lack of support filled us with doubt in our own DIY ability, but we kept with it and continued to tell people what we had agreed to do.  Sure enough, the helpful energy showed up.  People from all walks of life and backgrounds began to offer the knowledge and resources to help us refine the design and offer up resources to help complete the build.  Everyone who participated was able to see how their actions made an impact.  Together we get to share in the reward of overcoming our fears while building a community that can catch us even if we fail.

3. There are always unexpected gifts.

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns.  This project was no different.  These experiences served as a great opportunity to help people learn from their mistakes while feeling safe and supported.  It also provided the tenants of Hatch and public to see innovation in action and that not everything goes according to plan.   The great news is that through the experience, everyone learned something and help build an impactful relationship that can benefit everyone, even if you aren’t sure how it is going to come together or work through what might come up.  This is what community is all about, as everyone has a gift to share.

In Deep Appreciation

We wanted to extend a very warm thank you to everyone who participated in this build.  The following members of our community came together to help design, source materials and create this living wall. It serves as an extraordinary example of urban and rural innovation and partnership. Thank you to everyone who helped make this possible.

  • Don Vande Krol
  • Ace Hardware (Columbia County)
  • Laurie Oliver
  • Stan Joesph
  • Peter Croce
  • Taylor Alameda
  • An Anonymous  “Ingenuer” (Fabricated Custom Braces)
  • Anna Beckwith
  • John Garner
  • Upgeya Pew
  • Debilyn Molineaux
  • Perry Gruber, Copiosis
  • Anne Phillips, Möbius Microfarms
  • Michael Chudzik


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