Building Community: Gardening Centers Educate and Boost Local Food Production

Discover how one nonprofit community gardening center in Wisconsin is teaching folks of all ages how to improve their health by growing their own food.

| November/December 2015

  • Flambeau River Community Growing Center (FRCGC) teaches residents of all ages how to garden. CEO Tony Thier first became involved while winding down from a 40-plus year career at the local paper mill.
    Photo by Paul Nicolaus
  • The University of Wisconsin, the local paper mill and community have come together to provide the necessary space, funding and tools required to keep the center running.
    Photo by Paul Nicolaus
  • The greenhouse was constructed in 2013 and produced the Flambeau River Community Growing Center's first round of seedlings in the spring of 2014.
    Photo by Paul Nicolaus
  • Raised garden beds provide proof to new gardeners that a lot of food can be grown in a small space.
    Photo by Paul Nicolaus
  • The greenhouse and variety of raised beds have become the focal point of the Flambeau River Community Growing Center.
    Photo by Paul Nicolaus

“People are busy today, and everything’s so fast-paced,” explained avid gardener and retired teacher Dick Ross. “When you garden you can’t speed it up, and that’s the neat part. You go along with Mother Nature. You go back to basics.”

A lifelong educator who never gave up on teaching following his official departure from the profession, Ross seems to find just as much joy in nudging others to unearth the same sort of gardening benefits that he’s enjoyed over the years. “You have to experience it in order to understand it,” he said, “and it has to be cultivated.”

And nurturing a sense of curiosity about digging in and getting hands dirty is exactly what he and a variety of others have accomplished through a collaborative effort that has blossomed from seedling concept into full-blown organization dubbed the Flambeau River Community Growing Center (FRCGC).

The fledgling nonprofit located in the heart of Park Falls – a small town nestled within Wisconsin’s Northwoods – is an educational center designed to teach students and local community members of all ages how to garden so that knowledge absorbed along the way can be taken home and put to good use.

It is the result of efforts that have included plant scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Flambeau River Papers mill employees, outreach staff from the University of Wisconsin-Extension, local educators and community volunteers.

The greenhouse and raised garden beds that now serve as the focal point of the FRCGC can be traced back to conversations that took place in the fall of 2012 when Tracey Snyder, a nurse practitioner hired by Flambeau River Papers to develop a company wellness program, explored options for improving the health and well-being of mill employees.

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