A social and agricultural experiment called Riverview Gardens has now been in operation for five years. This recent article on the American Public Works Association website recounts its successes, in partnership with the City of Appleton and the Community Foundation.
Founded in 1898, Riverview Country Club and golf course was Wisconsin’s oldest private country club and an Appleton institution until its closing in 2011. Purchased in December 2011, the founders of Riverview Gardens Inc., a nonprofit organization, saw the beautiful, prominent property as an opportunity to address critical community challenges, including unemployment, homelessness and poverty, in a completely new way.
In 2012, the City of Appleton partnered with the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region (CFFVR) to apply for a $60,000 grant from the Funder’s Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities on behalf of Riverview Gardens. Riverview Gardens won the grant, which was matched by CFFVR, to help fund the transformation of this golf course and country club into a vibrant job-training program with urban farm, park, and other social enterprises.
“We were excited to hear about this opportunity, because we knew this was a chance to team up and do something great for the community that would hit on all aspects of sustainability: promoting a healthy environment, a strong economy and opportunity for all residents,” said Dean Gazza, Director of Parks, Recreation & Facilities Management for Appleton.
Riverview Gardens’ ServiceWorks job-training model is transformative. It is a 90-hour, no fail program that trains four principles of transferable work skills to help people obtain stable, permanent employment. The program is not only about getting people a job; it is about creating resilience, community and a sustainable future for the people served and, therefore, the entire community. In addition to ServiceWorks, the mission supports an earn-a-bike program for individuals without reliable transportation and a workshare program where participants can volunteer in exchange for a share of farm produce.
In the five years since Riverview Gardens’ inception, community members have volunteered more than 120,000 hours to make it a place to grow. Reusing existing resources on the former golf course and country club, five different social enterprise businesses provide job-training participants real, “on the job” opportunities:
- Certified-organic urban farm on former golf course fairways, with 20 passive solar greenhouses, urban apiary, orchards, and future prairie;
- Hydroponics greenhouse built over country club pool (only known hydroponics operation over former pool in U.S);
- Event and park space with trails at former country club building and golf course fairways;
- Maintenance contracts for other non- and for-profit organizations;
- Donated downtown Appleton building converted into collaborative and creative space for mission.
Riverview Gardens has a triple “bottom line”: unlimited work for ServiceWorks participants; source of revenue for financial stability and opportunity for the community to engage in the solution.
As a result of this grant and project, Riverview Gardens, the CFFVR and the City of Appleton have continue to seek opportunities to partner. Examples include the city’s master bike trail plan, under which the city constructs and maintains bike trails through Riverview Gardens’ property, and Downtown CARE (Clean, Assess, Refresh and Enhance), a ServiceWorks job-training program in which participants supplement existing cleaning services within the downtown business improvement district managed by Appleton Downtown Inc. and the City of Appleton.