Eight volunteers work in the Grow to Share garden Saturday, Sept. 17. They harvested 48 pounds of fresh produced which was delivered to the River Falls Community Food Pantry. The group helped weed and mulch the rhubarb and prep a bed for new blackberries. Photo courtesy of Grow to Share
RF resident wants assurances for the homeless

Grow to Share requests more permanent lease

RIVER FALLS – A River Falls resident has taken it upon himself to secure a safe spot for the homeless to stay, according to his comments made at the Sept. 13 River Falls City Council meeting.

Dana Linscott spoke to the council during public comment, saying he’s spoken to several current and past council members about helping the city’s homeless, many of which have been camping out in vehicles or tents. He described the response he’s received as “underwhelming.”

He claims to have a place for a homeless encampment on an island near the mouth of the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River, which is not owned by the city or state.

“I just cleared it with the DNR,” Linscott said. “As long as we follow rules to prevent pollution of the river, they are fine with it." Many homeless have camped out in vehicles for the past couple of years in the Heritage Park parking lot. Vehicles sometimes have to move every day or every other day, Linscott said.

“In River Falls, parking enforcement is completely left up to ovcer discretion," he claimed. "This has led to RFPD ovcers ha rassing those who have no available shelter except their vehicles. In at least one case, an ovcer intentionally and unlawfully dis abled a vehicle in order to apply an otherwise inapplicable ordinance to it. This is not only ethically, morally and legally wrong, it creates an unwanted liability for the city of River Falls when any employee of the city intentionally harms an individual while on duty. The city is liable for the harm done when that harm is done unlawfully and under color of law; the liability is compounded. It’s time for this practice to stop and for a clear city and police department policy to be created which states it is unacceptable.”

Linscott said he believe Mayor Dan Toland is unwilling to suggest a police change.

“I call upon the River Falls Common Council to enact a policy which forbids River Falls Police Department members from criminalizing the actions of any unsheltered River Falls resident,” Linscott proclaimed.

He also asked the council to consider granting a parking exception for the southwest 100 feet of the Heritage Park parking lot so those who have no shelter other than their vehicles do not have to move their vehicles daily.

“The entire parking lot is a place where River Falls homeless who are fortunate enough to have vehicles to shelter have been allowed to park,” Linscott said.

After calling some River Falls ovcers "bi ased,” he asked council members to consider providing electricity to the homeless at the same rate they do for food vendors during Chamber events.

“While the city may not, as the mayor claims, have any obligation to provide emergency shelter for homeless residents, even in severely cold weather, this would represent the minimum obligation that humane individuals owe each other. Those River Falls resi- dents who cannot auord traditional housing should not be intentionally punished for this, their misfortune,” Linscott said.

While the council does not respond to public comment during the meeting, City Administrator Scot Simpson did.

“River Falls police serves with compassion,” Simpson said. “Their actions are lawful and they are not acting as individuals. There’s quite a bit of command structure, supervision and training and they work as a team.”

Grow to Share

Grow to Share’s Program Coordinator Taylor Stevens was on hand to ask the council to consider a more permanent lease with the nonprofit organization. Currently, Grow to Share occupies land just north of First National Bank of River Falls Field within Houman Park (547 Han son Drive). A group of mothers founded the nonprofit garden enterprise in 2009 because they wanted their kids to be more involved in healthy living and growing food. Thirteen years later, all community garden plots are completely booked out, the sharing garden has been expanded and a master gardener’s demonstration garden has been added, Stevens said.

She presented a petition with more than 100 signatures asking the city to allow them to stay in their current location permanently.

“Our big ask is land security,” Stevens said. “We cannot expand with the current language of this lease.”

The lease states that the city has the right to terminate the contract, dated 2013, at any time with a 30-day written notice (even during the growing season.)

“Land security is crucial not only for Grow to Share but our growing community,” Stevens said. “We want to meet the needs of our community and surrounding areas.”

Current location is extremely bikeable and walkable, she added.

“It’s a beautiful expression of sustainability, which is another of the city’s values,” she said.

It could perhaps inspire models of sustainability across the country.

The group’s mission is to facilitate a volunteer-based collaborative garden, promote experiential learning, foster a healthy community and share the harvest. Its vision aligns with its mission: Cultivating healthy lifestyles in collaboration with local organizations, including hunger relief, hands-on food education, access to organic produce and volunteer opportunities.

Stevens said she would like to create more educational partnerships and continue partnerships with Kids Club, the School Forest, School District of River Falls and Community Education. The garden hosts workshops for canning, wellness, seed sowing, harvesting, and gardening tips/tricks.

The board would like to expand the number of food pantries it donates to, Stevens said. So far this year, the garden has donated 1,258 pounds of organic produce to area pantries.

People have worked a total of 725 volunteer hours so far this year, including children, high school students, clubs, organizations, church groups, Scout troops, families, people with disabilities and seniors.

“Grow to Share is positive community for people of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and ability levels,” Stevens said.

The garden has helped serve 700 adults, 350 children and 90 seniors monthly have been served through the RF Community Food Pantry, a number that has doubled since the pandemic. Grow to Share is the largest donor of fresh, locally grown produce.

With land security, the group could pursue its long-term goals: A produce stand ouering local, organ ic produce at the garden for all people for a small donation A picnic shelter, allowing the group to offer more educational opportunities and a safe space for people to meet and gather at the garden.

A garden kitchen in partnership with in- creasing workshops – ouering classes that include cooking right there in the garden.

“With negotiation of a new lease and land security, we'll be able to expand our euorts significantly," Stevens said. "Grow to Share fits into all the pillars of the city's future plans: Sustainability, outdoor recreation, inclusive community.”

Stevens moved to River Falls from Illinois in 2020 on a whim and Grow to Share ouered her a place to get to know people, a family.

Alderperson Jeu Bjork said at the gar den, people are talking to each other. “They’re talking about the news, about what’s happening in the city,” Bjork said. “It’s a gathering place. You’re not just growing vegetables and fruits there. You’re growing a community and strengthening that.”

Resident Reese Matz stepped to the mic to talk about what the garden means to her and her son.

“I don’t have land of my own and I have a son who enjoys going to the garden, digging in the dirt and getting muddy, finding worms and bugs, and when I found out that at any time Grow to Share could lose its land, that also meant my son could lose his garden, could lose a place that we’ve been going to for years, and it’s provided stability for us through many life circumstances,” Matz said.

Toland told Stevens that Grow to Share is phenomenal, but it might not be located in Houman Park forever. “I don’t think you have to worry about land security now,” Toland said. “What I mean by land security, like you guys say, is you have a place to do this. Odds are it’s probably not where you are right now, because I don’t think we’ve ever stated you will be there forever. But, if it isn’t there, understand the city will work with you to find a place that'll work for us and you and everybody involved.”

Simpson said it was never meant to be a permanent lease; it would limit plans the city has for Houman Park. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t change plans," he added. "Stau hasn't said you're going to be evicted. We haven’t given any notice, there’s no intent to do that.”

The city is in the midst of reworking its Parks & Recreation, Open Space and Comprehensive plans, Simpson said. The previous council was hesitant to go ahead with a lease and made it known it wouldn’t be longterm, he added.

“We need to be assured that we have a space here," said resident Reuben Herfind ahl. “We need to be assured that this is not another area, green space in the city that we’re going to lose to a parking lot or lose to apartment buildings, and I think that’s a lot of the community concern here, is that without something in writing, we’re going to lose this space.”

To learn more about Grow to Share, visit www.growtoshare.org Other business

• The council approved an ordinance annexing N8817 1010th St. and N8753 1010th St. from the town of River Falls into the city. The properties will be zoned R-2 multiple family medium density residential.

• The council approved an ovcial zoning and future land use maps amendment to rezone the parcel at the southwest corner of South Wasson Lane and Cemetery Road from R-3 multiple family high density residential to a school zone for the anticipated new Renaissance Charter Academy.

• A development agreement with RF Ren Project LLC was approved.

• An agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire was approved, accepting about $6,000 in funds to go toward the preservation of Foster Cemetery, which the diocese bequeathed to the city in 2000.

• A development agreement with RF Holdings LLC was approved for the 708 N. Main St. project. ValuStay will be razed and replaced with a commercial building.

September 27, 2022