River City Harvest Mission Statement:
Provide space for local citizens to garden together. Create a shared vision, work collaboratively, and to cultivate a place for people to learn about and to experience the joys of gardening. Provide education, outreach programs and activities and to help supplement food donation organizations.
How River City Harvest got Started
In 2008, Deb Oleynik and Amy Grisak approached Wade Crouch, the Cascade County MSU Extension agent, about starting community gardens in Great Falls to provide gardening spots for those who didn’t have ideal areas at home. Theresa Kiss joined them as they set the groundwork during this first year with the help of a steering committee to create River City Harvest.
The purpose of River City Harvest is:
~To develop accessible garden plots for local residents to grow their own vegetables and flowers providing healthful, economical fresh produce and flowers for themselves and their families.
~To educate the public on growing and preserving garden vegetables and to promote edible and beautiful landscapes.
~To assist local charitable organizations by growing and donating produce for food banks and similar projects.
The first garden in 2009 at Park Place Health Care Center was half of its 18000 sq. ft. size. This was the first tenuous experiment to see if the Great Falls community really wanted to get their hands in the dirt. Besides the gophers descending upon the newly planted vegetables as their personal buffet and all of the gardeners sharing a single hose from the building to water the roughly 9000 sq. ft. garden, the first year was a smashing success.
In 2010 the gardens grew exponentially. The director of Park Place Health Care Center allowed us to double the size of the garden. Ace Hardware donated their talented staff and materials to install a water line with hose bibs down the center aisle of the garden. The City of Great Falls donated bark chips to make the center aisle neat and tidy, and Wade put the smack on the gophers for a second season. Ace and Master Gardeners also tended a couple of large plots for the Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.
RCH also took over the management of the gardens at Electric City Conservatory. They were started a couple of years prior by Casey Bailey and the youth group at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. They provided fantastic groundwork of raised beds and an organic base. RCH rented out 20 one hundred square foot plots, and planted five of them for Meals on Wheels. The gardeners provided a whole lot of carrots, tomatoes, peppers and yellow crookneck square for the seniors, and the plot renters enjoyed a successful season.
Our third garden that year was at a private residence on the west side of town. The older gentleman wasn’t able to garden on his own, so he invited in the community gardeners. It was the smallest garden, but highly productive.
Finally, RCH helped the Salvation Army start a garden for their family services program. The 8000 sq ft gorgeous gardening area was managed by Kathy Craig and her team of Master Gardeners. They watered the entire thing with a single hose hooked up to the bathroom sink inside the building, so they were greatly restricted on their schedule. Still they made it work. By the end of the season, they harvested roughly 5000 pounds of fresh veggies for their program.
The 2011 season included all of the above gardens, as well as taking the reins at the University of Great Falls. It’s a 50×100 ft garden divided into 10 plots, and has the added benefit of a lovely shed built by an Eagle scout. It’s a productive area that will be a great benefit to everyone involved.
RCH intends to expand the gardening opportunities for the Great Falls’ gardeners, as well as grow great, fresh food for the local charitable organizations. Our latest garden was created in 2013 on Malmstrom AFB. This year we’ve acquired the new Southside Garden which is dedicated to helping the aging services. River City Harvest is continually looking for places to crop up and start new gardens. If you’re interested in joining us as a gardener – or a volunteer – or If you know of an area or neighborhood that is interested in having a community garden contact us to be part of the fun!