Grow to Share shares with The SOURCEWith all the negative things going on all over, it seems tough times can bring out the best in some people. The SOURCE — Serving Our Underserved Residents Compassionately and Equitably — is proof of that, as is “Grow to Share,” a community garden in River Falls.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
With all the negative things going on all over, it seems tough times can bring out the best in some people.
The SOURCE — Serving Our Underserved Residents Compassionately and Equitably — is proof of that, as is “Grow to Share,” a community garden in River Falls that provides fresh produce to more than a dozen food shelves in St. Croix and Pierce counties and soon to The SOURCE.
The partnership is a natural according to SOURCE board member Marg Wopat and Grow to Share’s Josh Hudek. “City limits and community boundaries tend to get blurred when it comes helping people,” said Hudek, “and we think that is a good thing. We heard about The SOURCE through “Our Neighbors Place” here in River Falls. If we can provide fresh, nutritious food for their clients, we certainly will.”
The Grow to Share community garden has been in operation for three years. It has two locations: one on property owned by St. Bridget’s Parish and another on three acres adjacent to Hoffman Park in River Falls that is leased to them by the city. The garden near Hoffman Park has 210 tomato plants, a large patch of sweet corn, several varieties of potatoes, cucumbers, melons, beets, squash and peppers of all kinds to serve the needs of an increasingly diverse population at places like The SOURCE and the area food shelves.
The public is welcome to harvest from the garden but Hudek said most of the product is delivered to food shelves and organizations like The SOURCE, Turningpoint, the domestic violence shelter in River Falls and Grace Place, the homeless shelter in Somerset.
Hudek said they delivered 5,000 pounds of produce in their first year. Last year their deliveries totaled 30,000 pounds and even though the harvest may be a bit later this year, they expect to deliver 35,000 pounds this season.
Hudek coordinates the gardens which depend on the efforts of some 200 volunteers over the course of the planting and growing season with 20 volunteers he describes as “hard core.” Hudek is a volunteer himself and has the support of an eight-member working board of directors. As Grow to Share has grown, Hudek said they are looking for people to take on specific roles to coordinate things like fundraising, volunteer recruitment and management, research and grant-writing and community outreach.
There is room for expansion at the gardens. At the city land, plans are being made to plant an orchard of 40-plus trees. The city has been a good partner in the effort, according to Hudek who says they have also received support and professional advice from UW-River Falls environmental science and agriculture staff as well as from the social sciences as it relates to community organizing. They have also received significant support with plants and advice from several area growers including Cedar Falls Greenhouse, Rush Creek Growers and Skyline Nursery.
Hudek said growing up his family used food stamps and assistance and remembers getting bruised and dated produce. He recalled the day several years ago that someone knocked on their door looking for food to restock the local food shelf. “That’s when the idea of a small garden to provide fresh food developed. It just makes sense.”
Hudek said last year they partnered with Specialty Meats and Gourmet in Webster Square, setting up a table of free produce outside the store. “We just wanted to get as much food as possible into people’s hands and their staff was very helpful, telling people how to use what we brought. We know The SOURCE will be another great partner,” said Hudek.
Wopat agrees. Since opening last year, The SOURCE has expanded their services to include gas vouchers and the local farmers’ market for residents of the Hudson School District. When Hudek starts making weekly deliveries later this month, they will have even more to offer their clients.
The idea of The SOURCE is to offer those in need of assistance connections with those support agencies and organizations that can help in a safe and respectful environment. Located on the second floor at 901 Fourth St., Wopat says they average 70-75 clients a month. Along with free fresh coffee, clients can use computers and telephones as well as find information about services available to them.
Families in need of new underwear and socks will be able to find them at The SOURCE thanks to fundraisers by groups like Girl Scout Troop 50607 and volunteers who bagged groceries at Family Fresh for donations. “We also get support and referrals from the Hudson Area Ministerial Association, Operation HELP and others like Grow to Share that really can make a difference in the lives of families who need help,” said Wopat.
To learn more about The SOURCE or to make a donation, go to www.TheSOURCEHudson.org. To volunteer, contact Jean at (715) 386-8921. For more information about Grow to Share go online at www.growtoshare.org.