BY KATIE MATTESON
The Racine Urban Garden Network (RUGN) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with the opening of its eighth network garden at N. Owen Davies Park.
After a day of building the 18 raised garden beds that will soon be filled with vegetables, fruits and flowers, volunteers gathered at the southwest corner of West Boulevard and 17th Street for the official blessing of the new garden on Sunday, June 2.
Potawatomi Elder Skip Twardosz performed the Garden Blessing Ceremony, using a Medicine Wheel, which in Native American culture embodies the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky, Mother Earth and Spirit Tree — all of which symbolize dimensions of health and the cycles of life. Sap water from a maple tree was shared with the group, and a smudging ritual was conducted, in which smoke from the burning of sage in a large seashell was shared by using a feather to fan the smoke on each participant.
Representatives from the St. David’s Society of Racine and Vicinity participated in the occasion to honor a former member of the Welsh heritage group, N. Owen Davies, for which the park is named. The son of Welsh immigrants, Davies owned and operated West Racine Cleaners for over 30 years and was a member and past president of the West Racine Business Association. He also served as the mayor of Racine from 1987-1995. The society donated $1,500 to help establish the new garden and has pledged ongoing support.
Mary Siuta and Ann Smith will co-manage the community garden, which will provide an oasis of fresh food in West Racine to complement the twice-a-week farmers market.
“We’ve been living in a food desert since the Piggly Wiggly on Grove Avenue closed,” Siuta said.
A member of the West Racine Alliance, Siuta said her group had been looking for a garden site for several years. “We were very pleased when the city offered us a spot in the park,” she said.
The new garden will include two 24-inch raised beds to accommodate gardeners with mobility issues, as well as 16 12-inch beds. A chain link fence will surround the garden and welcoming arbors will greet gardeners and visitors on the north and east ends of the garden. Other amenities will include benches in the center to offer rest and opportunities for socialization among the gardeners, as well as a compost pile, a water station, bike racks, a bulletin board and a shed to store tools and equipment.
The seeds for RUGN were planted in 2009 when local business owner Chris Flynn from D.P. Wigley and fellow resident Sarah Wright saw a presentation by Milwaukee urban gardener Will Allen at Growing Power and wondered if they could do something similar to address concerns about the lack of access to healthy foods in downtown Racine.
About 100 people showed up to the organizational meeting on May 8, 2009, which led to the establishment of RUGN.
Its first community garden bloomed in 2010 at 734 Marquette St., a full city block located just south of the Riverbend Lofts. It initially hosted 25 plots, but has grown to 100 gardens.
Rachel Trobaugh has served as the volunteer garden manager there nearly from the beginning.
“The goal of a community garden is to build community, along with providing education and tools to grow healthy food” Trobaugh said.
Flynn explained that RUGN provides access to garden tools, water, soil, compost and mulch. They also assist gardeners in learning about gardening through garden events, workshops and one-on-one advice and assistance.
A $10,000 Community Development Block Grant from the City of Racine helped grow the Marquette Street Garden and a $10,000 grant from S.C. Johnson supported the establishment of the Zoe Garden of Life at 2103 Racine St.
The group has also received support from the Potpourri Garden Club, church groups and other sources, and was assisted by a funded AmeriCorps VISTA worker each year from 2012-2015.
Other funding comes from the $20 per plot collected from the gardeners and private donations to support the organization that established itself as a nonprofit in 2016.
A total of 250 garden plots are available for participants to rent for one growing season, with the expectation that they maintain their plot to keep it free from debris and weeds. The gardeners are required to participate in spring and fall clean up events and encouraged to share their harvests with local food pantries
In addition to the Davies Park, Marquette Street and Zoe gardens, other network gardens include:
- Anthony Lane, 2437 Anthony Lane.
- Emaus Church, 1925 Summit Ave.
- Ruby Avenue, 3825 Erie St. (behind North Pointe United Methodist Church)
- St. Paul, 1821 Carroll St. (Carroll and Center streets)
- Villa Street, 1112 Villa St.
RUGN also assists partner gardens including:
- Fratt Elementary School, 3501 Kinzie Ave.
- Little Saints Child Care Center, 4021 Spring St.
- Randolph Park, 533 Randolph St.
For more information about renting a plot, establishing a new neighborhood garden, volunteering to help maintain the gardens, serve on a committee or sponsor a garden, visit rugn.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (262) 633-8239.