Fresh Greens on the Site of Old Greens

By | January 14, 2017
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hydroponic facility at Riverview Garden
The stunning hydroponics facility at Riverview Gardens that sprung up from the swimming pool at the former Riverview Country Club in Appleton. Contributed photos.


With acres of fertile land and an abundant yield of fresh food, you might feel as though you’re miles outside of Appleton, but you’re right in the heart of it.

Riverview Gardens, a self-supporting venture on the site of the old Riverview Country Club, is the valley’s first year-round urban farm.

In addition to providing families with fresh produce, their main purpose is to offer job training for people in need.

“Our work program helps marginalized members of society,” says Kelly Nutty, Director of Resource Management. “From veterans who have difficulty reintegrating into society to single moms who’ve fl ed abuse, most of these people gain a sense of dignity and hope here. They are people who have received little positive feedback in their lives.”

Working with the earth through gardening is healthful work, explains Nutty. And this draws all sorts of volunteers.

“In farming there is unlimited work. And all our volunteers are seen as equals with the employees, we all work side by side. We aim to be part of our own solution.”

It’s easy to get a feel for the communal effort and enthusiasm surrounding Riverview Gardens just by strolling the grounds. Lawrence students, retired employees volunteering for the day- everyone seems eager to get their hands in the dirt.

The urban farm benefits not only residents of the valley, but the health of the planet too. Plus, they now have 15-acres of certified organic growing space.

“We have 20 passive solar greenhouses,” says Nutty. “We want to be as self-sustaining as possible, so we rely on the sun. The hoop houses are costly so we have them sponsored and erect them ourselves. We even bend the hoops on our own.”

An Appleton parish sponsored one of the hoop houses on the grounds and volunteered to put it up themselves, which is a full day’s worth of work- a perfect example of the communal support the gardens receive. Since the gardens are on an old country club site, the staff has been creative in utilizing what already exists there. The pool, for example, is now a hydroponic gardening site- a method of growing plants in nutrient-rich water without soil.

“It was amazing to see this erect from the pool,” says Nutty. “The floating foam pieces are literally called lettuce rafts and the beautiful lettuce heads are just lounging in the water.”

Their “Living Lettuce” can be found in nine Festival Foods stores in Wisconsin. It’s sold with the root bulb attached, so it continues to grow and stay fresh.

In addition to growing fruit, vegetables, nuts, and herbs, the gardens are also home to something sweet- a ten-hive apiary.

“We’re going to install a six-acre prairie this fall for the bees and other pollinators,” explains Nutty. “We aren’t experts in prairie installation, but we have a volunteer who is and has stepped up to the plate.” While Riverview Gardens’ main purpose is its work-training program, feeding the community is certainly a positive by-product.

They sell most everything they grow to restaurants, grocers and through their CSA (community supported agriculture) program. It runs May through October and has a robust membership.

For those who aren’t ready to commit to a six-month membership, Riverview Gardens was gifted a retail space in downtown Appleton at 513 W. College Avenue which means you can swing by for fresh produce year-round.

turning country club pool into garden
 hoop houses provide a shielded greenhouse for plants
gardens have a ten-hive apiary
Photo 2: The hoop houses are sponsored and constructed by volunteers.
Photo 3: The gardens have a ten-hive apiary. Contributed photos.

“This is a great opportunity for those in our job-training program to gain customer service and retail experience,” says Nutty. “We have a lot of innovative ideas floating around amongst our volunteers. A rooftop garden for the College Avenue building is one of them.”

In addition to working with people who need a little help getting back on their feet, Riverview Gardens welcomes a lot of at-risk youth, especially in the summertime.

“We partner with the Boys & Girls Club and the gardens can be a place for kids who might not have the chance to attend summer camps,” says Nutty. “It’s great to see the kids grow. We had a teen who was harvesting cucumbers and she told me she had just eaten her first pre-pickle! She had never had a cucumber before. It made me feel hopeful that we’re doing something good here.” The heart of this place is beating with community involvement.

From locals lending a hand on their day off to newly retired couples wanting to give back, every piece of this tucked away property thrives thanks to the small staff and eager volunteers.

“I love seeing volunteers work side-by-side with our job-training participants,” says Nutty. “You can see people are here not only to work with the earth or to better their lives, but for the human connection. Everything we do here is layered with the overarching mission of service works.”

You’ll work up an appetite planting and harvesting, so Riverview Gardens provides lunch for everyone working on the property Monday-Friday.

“We sit down together and eat family style,” says Nutty. “Our vegetables are always incorporated into the meal somehow and if the weather permits, we eat outside on picnic tables built by the Eagle Scouts.”

While the gardens are technically private property, Nutty explains that as a community project they want to be open to the public. The walking trails are open from dawn until dusk and leashed dogs are welcome.

“We just want people to be a part of it.”

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