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In a small garden in Riverside, community spirit and giving is in full bloom.
Overflow Farms, a non-profit group in Riverside that supplies fresh produce to local food banks, organizations and families in need, is turning the “farm-to-table” concept into “farm for community.” Established in summer as the coronavirus pandemic continued, the farm promotes health and wellness through community service, growing and eating local.
Founder and longtime Riverside resident Fred Stover said he noticed few fruits and vegetables in food banks and soup kitchens. The produce, going to families and the homeless, was mostly day-old leftovers from grocery stores, he said.
“Eating healthy, fresh and local is important to me,” said Stover, 51, who started growing crops for these local banks. “It’s a process from seed to plant, to harvest to donate, and there’s a big community involvement — you get to touch the soil, pick the vegetables.”
Fred Stover, founder of Overflow Farms, prepares to plant vegetables at the ceremonial opening of the community garden in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson speaks to those gathered at the ceremonial opening of Overflow Farms in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson address guests at the ceremonial opening of Overflow Farms in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
A volunteer prepares to plant onions at the ceremonial opening of Overflow Farms in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Fred Stover, left, founder of Overflow Farms, prepares to plant vegetables with Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson, center, and Pastor Vadim Dementyev at the ceremonial opening of the garden in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
From left, Cesar Armendariz, Pastor Vadim Dementyev, Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson, former Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey and his wife, Judy, plant vegetables at the ceremonial opening of Overflow Farms in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Former Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey plants lettuce at Overflow Farms in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Former Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, left, plants lettuce with his wife, Judy, during the ceremonial opening of Overflow Farms in Riverside on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. The 2-acre garden hopes to help feed 1,000 people in need per week. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
For Stover, it started in 2014 as a hobby. He planted seeds on a 12,000 square-foot vacant piece of land that he and friends turned into a vegetable garden at the intersection of Magnolia and Holes avenues in Riverside, near the Galleria at Tyler.
The first location grew to include an additional farm on private land on Jurupa Avenue in Riverside, which opened in summer, and a nearby public community garden that opened Sunday, Jan. 24.
At a ceremonial opening, community partners and Riverside officials showed their support for Overflow Farms’ new garden, a 2 1/2-acre spot in the back parking lot of Riverside Community Seventh-day Adventist Church at 4850 Jurupa Ave.
That afternoon, community members planted the first seeds — including cabbage, onions, lettuce — in the newly developed garden. Stover said he leases the land from the church for $1 a month.
Like its sister farms, the community garden will offer volunteer opportunities and educational activities for families, made possible through local partnerships. Stover’s goal is to encourage healthy eating, teach sustainable farming methods and let people take home what they harvest. He hopes to one day offer work and training programs for the homeless and those recovering from addiction.
The farms grow everything from pumpkins and zucchini to cantaloupe and squash. The operations hope to keep everything organic, like a sister farm that uses fish pond water to help irrigate soil and beehives to help pollinate crops.
Volunteers said the efforts are one way of going back to Riverside County’s agricultural roots.
Aram Ayra, a 24-year-old Riverside resident, has been volunteering weekly since the pandemic started, picking up new skills from classifying vegetables to plowing the fields. Ayra also founded the Riverside Mutual Aid Network, part of a national movement that hosts local food drives — using produce from Overflow Farms — in an effort to fight the pandemic hunger crisis.
“Having an opportunity once or twice a week to make a tangible difference, and knowing the food you picked and harvested yourself is going to families in need, that in itself gives me an amazing sense of fulfillment in a time filled with so much uncertainty,” Ayra said.
Overflow Farms has provided produce to more than 30 food banks, churches, shelters and organizations, including La Sierra and Loma Linda universities, Path of Life Ministries, the Inland Empire Health Plan and the Riverside Unified School District.
Scott Berndt, coordinator for the Riverside Unified Food Hub that partners with farmers to offer produce to restaurants, child care centers, hospitals and students, said the district spends $2 million a year on produce, but only about 10% of it is local.
“The pandemic has shown us that we need a local food system that can withstand things like natural disasters and pandemics,” Berndt said. “The fact that we have food — and farmers — growing locally helps not only increase our resilience and access, it reduces the carbon footprint.”
Berndt also said he hopes to continue partnering with Stover and Riverside County farmers for an upcoming members-only grocery store, the Riverside Food Co-Op.
Overflow Farms founder Fred Stover is seen with his wife, Michelle, and daughter, Julianna. (Photo courtesy of Fred Stover)
Stover, who retired from his own construction company to run the farm full time, said that the work comes naturally.
“When you’re this blessed, it’s easy to give back.”
Information: 951-850-3507 or [email protected]
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