As community gardens go, the Riverside Community garden may have a tiny footprint, but it has plenty of ambition and confidence in its mission. A registered nonprofit organization since 2019, the garden through its volunteers produces and donates fresh produce to the food insecure and food pantries and spreads the gospel of growing your own food via seed and plant swaps as well as family programming in partnership with local organizations.
And, thanks to a $5,000 grant approved earlier this month by the Riverside Township Board of Trustees, the Riverside Community Garden is growing.
The total area of the expansion, about 300 square feet, will roughly double the size of the existing garden. Nearly half the funds will be used to purchase 32-inch-high metal Vego Garden modular raised beds, which will increase the garden’s vegetable growing area by about 100 square feet.
There will be a walking path separating the new beds from each other as well as the existing ones, which are made of wood and are much lower to the ground.
“The new ones are significantly higher and can be worked on without crouching or bending over,” said Elaine Ruggless, president of the Riverside Community Garden. “We have a lot of senior citizen volunteers, and this is going to make it more accessible for people to work in the garden.”
Grant funds will also go toward continued operation of the garden, from buying topsoil, starter plants, organic soil amendments and other supplies to helping fund distribution of the garden’s produce and maintaining the beds and new pollinator garden.
Yet other funds will be put toward continuing and expanding the garden’s community programming, like gardening-related classes, storytime sessions in partnership with the Riverside Public Library and yoga events.
Finally, some of the fund will also go toward replenishing the garden’s Little Free Seed Library – like the ones traditionally made for books but stocked instead with seed packets.
“In the summer you can visit the seed library, literally open the door and pick what you want,” Ruggless said.
The Riverside Community Garden has benefited from donations from companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Renee’s Garden, but the seed library is also stocked with seeds collected by the volunteers themselves, from their own home gardens.
Through its different initiatives – from providing produce to those in need to family programming and other events – Ruggless estimated that 700 people from Riverside Township benefited from the Riverside Community Garden in 2022.
While not all of those benefiting derived produce from the garden, the nonprofit provided produce for 125 meals as part of Ascension Lutheran Church’s Meals Do Matter initiative and provided fresh produce to the 5th Sunday Project, a joint venture between Ascension and Compassion United Methodist Church in Brookfield, which operates its own garden.
The garden has also provided fresh produce to the Riverside Presbyterian Church’s food pantry and to the Riverside Area Refugee Resettlement program in partnership with Ascension and Riverside Presbyterian churches.
This year, the Riverside Community Garden began a composting education initiative that included purchasing vermicomposting Subpods funded via a grant from Microsoft. Volunteers buried six of the box-like Subpods filled with red wiggly worms into each raised bed this spring and then held a series of classes for those wishing to tend the compost pods by filling them with food waste and brown material.
The garden’s two compost managers, Courtney Greve Hack and Deb Faletti monitored the Subpods during the summer. By the end of the growing season, said Ruggless, some 3,000 pounds of food waste otherwise destined for the landfills were processed into compost.
Part of the composting push was to convince home gardeners to begin composting themselves.
“As a result of the program we heard from numerous people who have installed subpods in their own gardens,” Ruggless said.
The garden is always looking for volunteers. It also publishes a newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter by visiting the website at riverside-community-garden.mailchimpsites.com and clicking the “contact” link. They are also on Facebook and Instagram.