What was once a dry, unused patch of land is now a garden sprouting seasonal produce that will feed a community.
In a collaborative effort to address the rising food insecurity throughout Riverside county and draw surrounding constituents to take part in the cause, locally-based organizations came together to turn a plot of land into a neighborhood garden. Overflow Farms, a non-profit organization that provides produce to local food banks, churches and families in need, manages the acreage owned by Riverside Community Church on Jurupa Avenue.
“We put in the first plants on Sunday and got everything done for the open house on Monday,” said Fred Stover, founder and president of Overflow Farms. The garden’s grand opening occurred earlier this week.
The organization plans to eventually offer 40 hours per week to visitors, according to Stover. From school field trips and educational programs for preschool-aged children, Stover desires to see the garden educate as much as feed the community.
Vadim Dementyev, lead pastor of Riverside Community Church, said when the church’s leadership planned how they would use the undeveloped land nearly one year ago, he met Stover and the idea for a community garden took form.
“It just became a kind of logical development from this partnership. These are not random acts of kindness but a strategic and planned way of serving our neighbors,” Dementyev said.
Soon after, Inland Empire Health Plan joined with their resources. They now use the church’s open parking lot once per week as a meeting place where those in need can receive boxes of donated food.
Marci Coffey, director of community partnerships for IEHP, said food has become one of the greatest needs among those she serves.
Feeding America, a non-profit organization and national network of food banks, pantries and meal programs, conducted a study that reported a 48 percent increase of individuals affected by food insecurity from 2018 to 2020 in Riverside County.
“The partnerships just serendipitously fell together,” Coffey said. “We wanted to help develop infrastructure during COVID … We’ve given them things to be able to use in their operations.”
A forklift used to unload truckloads of donations and a refrigerator able to store perishable food items are among the machinery IEHP gave to the project.
The garden is also used as a space for undergraduate students who study social work to serve in internships with Path of Life Ministries under their Love Your Neighbor Collaborative program.
Rusty Bailey, Path of Life Ministries CEO and former Riverside mayor, said the internship program equips students with hands-on experience. They meet at the garden once per week to welcome families with children and lead them in educational outdoor activities.
“That’s what makes this fun. It’s the power of partnership,” Bailey said. “So many partners came together at the right time.”
The garden is open for volunteers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays according to the Overflow Farms website. Stover said he hopes to add more hours to that schedule in the next two weeks.