THE HEIGHT OF SUMMER is heaven for a productive vegetable garden. Tomatoes slowly change from green to red, zucchinis stretch their impressive bulk, and corn ripens on the stalk. There is bounty in every row. Such was the case at the Earl Boyles Community Garden before vandals struck in the night, on Tuesday, August 11, destroying a season's worth of hard work, and more importantly, a needed source of food.

The Earl Boyles Garden is just one of 32 community gardens around the city. The program, which began in 1975, has long helped feed Portlanders from a wide variety of social and ethnic backgrounds. Many people rely on the gardens to provide fresh produce for their families. But for those tending plots in the small garden at Earl Boyles Park at SE 112th and Boise, much of that produce has been lost.

Amber Clark has been working the same plot in the garden for two years. She became involved through an Earl Boyles Elementary after-school program that offers children and their families the opportunity to learn how to garden. The program offers guidance and support to participants as they plant in the spring, tend the garden through the year, and harvest vegetables to supplement their diet. Clark's family shares the plot with four others.

"This was all full and green," she says sweeping her hand across a barren square of dirt. "Now this is what's left."

She walks around the perimeter of the plot, naming all of the vegetables that were already producing, but are now gone. "We had a whole row of tomato plants here. We had zucchini here, cucumbers here. Some bush beans." She points to a thick, four-inch stub sticking out of the ground. "That used to be an artichoke that was as tall as you," she says.

"We didn't know anything about gardening," Clark says. "But we learned. It got my kids interested." Her family planned on getting their own plot in the garden at a cost of $75 and a $10 deposit. The paperwork was ready. Now Clark says her family isn't so sure, citing the cost of starts and plants wasted to vandals.

The destruction in the garden was random and vicious, with some plots hit harder than others. Structures were especially targeted, and the remains of trellises litter the grounds.

Robert Haley stands at the edge of his father's plot, looking dismayed. It's one of the more devastated areas of the garden. He's helped his father, who uses a wheelchair, to plant and tend the plot. His nephew has also pitched in.

"He was hoping to grow a pumpkin," Haley says, patting his nephew on the head. "But they just cut them right off."

The plot feeds Haley, his father and his nephew. Haley was looking forward to canning tomatoes for winter. He tells me that the vandalism has been an ongoing problem.

"I told them they should put a camera up so people could watch online and call the police if they see anything," he says.

The problem is that when the latest and most destructive vandalism occurred, people did see something, but they are allegedly too intimidated to speak to the police.

Gardener Alice Chavez has difficulty understanding that. She's been gardening at Earl Boyles for three years, tending a plot with her partially disabled son. She's heard that the vandals were a group of kids and one adult.

"I don't know who sees all these things and doesn't do anything about it," she says.

Her garden plot was spared the brunt of the attack but she still lost tomato plants and peppers. "It doesn't look bad," she says. "But it's the idea and principle of it. Once you've watered the seeds and planted, it's an investment."

And it's the destruction of that investment that saddens her. She's been working in the community to help develop Earl Boyles Park for years. Without saying much more, she walks along the plots, sighing heavily before riding off on her bicycle with a basket of five salvaged tomatoes and a broken bottle.

On Saturday, August 22, the Community Gardens program will be holding a work party at the Boyles Community Garden (SE 108th & Francis) beggining at 10 am. All are invited to come and help repair the garden. It is asked that people come to work, or bring vegetable donations, tools, and starts to help the garden get back on track. Call the Community Gardens program at 823-1612 to find out how you can help or volunteer for a community garden in your neighborhood.