Community garden serves variety of River Falls needs

Posted October 5, 2015

The Grow to Share community garden has donated between 1,600 and 1,700 pounds of fresh produce to various nonprofit organizations in River Falls so far in 2015.

Recipients of the donated food include Our Neighbors’ Place, Turningpoint, Wellhaven Senior Apartments and the River Falls Community Food Pantry (RFCFP), according to Anna Zalusky, president of the garden’s board of directors.

Zalusky said that she and the other volunteers at Grow to Share believe that anyone who chooses to eat fresh produce should be able to do so.

“Our hope is that we kind of can expand this and reach out to other gardeners and have everybody helping to make sure that everybody has access to fresh food,” Zalusky said.

However, not everyone has access to fresh produce. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 14.8 percent of households surveyed said that they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals at some point during 2014.

Food insecurity is an issue at both the local and national levels. The USDA describes food insecure households as not always having access to enough food for the members of the household to lead healthy and active lifestyles.

The USDA estimates that 14 percent of households in the U.S. were food insecure in 2014. An estimated 10.7 percent of the population of Pierce County and 9 percent of the population of St. Croix County were food insecure in 2013, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap project.

Operations Manager at RFCFP Candice Rapley said that the food pantry’s clients are always eager to take Grow to Share’s donated produce.

“Oh they love it, especially because they bring such a variety,” Rapley said. “They’ll bring a few cartons of raspberries and tomatoes and such a variety that as soon as it comes in and we put it on our produce stand or in our cooler, it’s gone.”

Rapley said that Grow to Share’s donations have provided an opportunity that was not always possible for the food pantry.

“We’re able to offer, and we’re kind of moving toward, healthier options,” Rapley said. “Obviously we still have crackers and cookies, and we put a few of those items out.”

Rapley explained that the food pantry has seen an increase in the amount of food being taken by its clients, but a lot of it is fresh produce. Clients are allowed to take as much fresh produce as they can use without it counting toward their monthly food allotments.

“We don’t tell people, ‘Well you can only have one cucumber,'” Rapley said. “They can take 20 cucumbers if they know a way to utilize it.”

One thing Zalusky said that she always likes to remind people is that Grow to Share is part of Hoffman Park, so it is open to the public.

“If you want to volunteer, of course you can, but you can also just come to enjoy it,” Zalusky said. “So if you’re at the ball park and you want to come up to the garden to visit, it really is a part of the community open to all. We welcome everybody.”