Nourish/RCS Empowers Educational Urban Farm

Written by: Greg Suralik Edited by: Stacy Scheibl

In recent months, Nourish Farm to Family Philanthropy and RCS Empowers of Sheboygan have partnered to create an Educational Urban Farm (EUF) in the city of Sheboygan. Just as every fruit and vegetable started out as a seed, the farm is beginning to take root in our community. Already it is growing, its tendrils reaching out to enrich multiple facets of city life. This farm helps to facilitate the Nourish vision of improving the lives of Sheboygan’s citizens, and our hope is to expand this farm in future years.

Through Nourish’s programs, two main objectives thoroughly intertwine. The first is to help provide access to healthy, locally grown food to people in Sheboygan County who need it. According to recent statistics, more than 55% of children in the county are at risk for hunger. In order to combat this, Nourish carries out several “Farm to School” programs which provide good food and good food education at local schools. This arm of Nourish includes a Healthy Summer Lunch Program as well as the after-school Snack Program and Weekend Food Backpack Program during the regular school year. Our second objective is to teach the people of Sheboygan about where food comes from and the sustainable practices through which food can be grown. This mission had already been well under way through our weekly “Farm to Table” tours during the summer and our booth at the farmers market which offers food preparation demonstrations and tasty samples for interested families.

Either intent, access to good food or better education, would, on its own, be a worthwhile pursuit. But the two objectives are not, and should not be, seen as separate; in order for people to eat healthily, they should know what food to eat, where it comes from, and how to acquire it locally. That’s why, starting this past May, Nourish began developing its EUF where we developed a plan for which foods we want to grow and what workshops and classes to teach. With that, we are able to both provide food to various community organizations and also to teach people why local agriculture is so important. Above all, the EUF demonstrates how it’s possible to grow food anywhere, and that it’s important to grow in a central location, relative to the population that needs it, in an effort to eliminate food deserts and to diminish the disconnect between food growers and food consumers.

In just a few short months, the farm has already transformed into a beautiful growing space. We now have several gardening beds teeming with plants of all colors, shapes, and sizes—raspberries, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, radishes, and several others. Volunteer groups from companies all over Sheboygan County, from Kohler to Sargento, visit us and help with farming tasks. And throughout the summer, our Urban Farm Managers offer community workshops focusing on a wide variety of agriculture-related topics, from gardening basics and farm eating to composting and Wisconsin’s native plants.

The seeds of our goals have sprouted into seedlings, and the only direction they can grow is upwards.

Our EUF would not be where it is today without the guidance of our Urban Farm Managers. In the past few months, two enthusiastic leaders have worked tirelessly to turn their ideas for the EUF into reality. Jonathan Ribich and Jenny Conrardy each have a background in agriculture and community development, and Nourish is lucky to have them.

Jonathan attended the University of Wisconsin - Madison where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology. He worked in medical research at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and at Hospital Maisonneuve Rosemont in Montreal before shifting interests towards food systems in order to pursue preventive medicine. He has volunteered at Growing Power, Nourish, and several local schools. Prior to his employment at Nourish he worked for ECHO, an international agriculture non-profit, in Florida as an intern at a demonstration farm and seed bank and in Southeast Asia as a consultant on food security and agricultural research and development.

Jenny has worked with local, sustainable food and agricultural practices for more than ten years via CSA farms, orchards, food cooperatives, restaurants, farmer’s markets, and home gardening.  She attended University of Wisconsin-Madison where she majored in Art (Sculpture emphasis), and minored in Religious Studies (Jewish Studies emphasis).  During college, she worked on CSA vegetable farms where she learned the importance of local, sustainable agricultural practices.  At the other end of the cycle, she witnessed local food distribution via her job at Willy Street Grocery Co-op. After a 6-year stay in Madison, and one year in Milwaukee, Jenny returned to her hometown of Sheboygan.  There, she interned and worked at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and she participated in a worker share on Springdale Farm in Plymouth.  She participated in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program, traveling to North Carolina to work at Pickard’s Mountain Eco-Institute.  She was employed by Daane’s Gibbsville Apple Orchard, was a Produce Manager at Woodlake Market, co-founded Goodside Grocery Co-op, and worked in the kitchens of Real Bread and Wild Carrot Cuisine.

The knowledge and hard work that Jenny and Jon bring to Nourish will continue to expand the farm so that it can become an integral part of the city of Sheboygan for years to come. We are thankful to RCS of Sheboygan for partnering with Nourish to get this farm off the ground. They have provided the land necessary for a farm to exist and the resources (e.g. water) needed for it to thrive. Through this partnership, Nourish also helps RCS by growing certain plants for them and providing guidance for expanding their gardening program. Together, we plan for the efforts of our partnership to reach out to all members of the community. *

Now that the farm is up and running, we invite you, the reader, to come experience it for yourself. Join us for our workshop series this summer; the lessons are sure to be enlightening. And if you ever feel like rolling up your sleeves and doing some farming for yourself, know that volunteers are always welcome. For details, visit our website at nourishfarms.org or call 920-627-GROW(4769).

I would like to close this piece with a final thought. Most people may think that the most important resource needed for agriculture is something tangible, like good soil, water, or sunlight. While these things are necessary, they cannot grow food on their own. Cooperation is another resource that combines these and many other ingredients together. This fundamental skill is needed at every level of farming. A farm manager must work with volunteers to show them how to properly plant a crop; the roots of plants depend on nitrogen-fixing bacteria in order to grow; and shoppers at farmers markets rely on growers to give them the healthy, fresh, local food that will help their families thrive. On our farm, cooperation is the ultimate crop we grow, one in abundance with plenty to share. We ask that you help us harvest this crop so that you, and the rest of Sheboygan, can grow.

Let’s grow together.

Photo caption: Caitie Koch, North High School Student and Nourish Intern