The plot on the corner of Score Street and Third Avenue in Ray, N.D. looks like a typical garden. The potato plant’s purple buds are blooming and the pumpkin vines are rapidly expanding. But this particular garden is fulfilling a special need in its community.
Volunteers have taken an empty lot and made it into a flourishing community garden that provides fresh produce for Ray’s food pantry.
“We get a lot of stuff (at the food pantry), but not a lot of fresh stuff comes in all the time,” said Eric Viall, founder of the project. “So I thought, last summer, that we could supplement that by trying to get a garden going here.”
Volunteers came together to till and ready the space, plants and seeds were donated by Viall and other community members and the group planted the garden together. While the food pantry is open on the first and third Tuesday of each month, the garden group meets the Monday before to harvest and gather what is available to be ready the following day at distribution. The pantry, formally named Ray Community Nutrition and Resource Center, is conveniently located just down the street from the garden in the Ray Mall.
Ray Lutheran church is across the street and owns the land that the garden sits on and the city of Ray pays for the water used. Many of the core volunteers that faithfully tend to the garden are church members, but anyone is welcome to lend a hand.
“We are always looking for more people, if they want to show up on Mondays to help pull some weeds,” Viall said. “If anybody wants to join, come on out. It's worked pretty well so far … Getting a little produce to them and getting produce to the community.”
Viall is originally from Ray. He and his wife, Janessa, are school teachers and together have two daughters. While attending college in Fargo, Viall was a part of a group through his church that had similar community gardens. He was advised on how to set up and organize the Ray project by Jack Wood, the organizer of the Fargo gardens.
Ray food pantry is happy to receive produce from the project, as fresh items do not come in for distribution too often.
“We just have a great collaboration with them,” said Brenna Hudson, director of the Ray food pantry. “They are able to funnel the food our way if there is extra and they are able to help our participants as well.”
Most of the volunteers at the garden also help with the pantry, including Viall, who sits on the board. The food pantry serves Ray and the surrounding areas. Between April of 2022 and March of 2023, they were able to provide food for 162 households, 163 adults, 150 children and 124 seniors by distributing 11,098 pounds of food. On average, they serve 10-12 families a month.
“We fed a lot of people last year from this little bit,” Viall said. “I really like the relationship here. You can grow things and get it out to people who need it.”
Excess produce is given to volunteers or set out in the church for anyone to take.
“If people are walking by, we will offer them stuff as well,” Viall said. “It's pretty open.”
For information about the Ray food pantry, contact the Ray Family Medical Center at 701-586-2796. To help with the garden, get in touch with Eric Viall at 701-446-8194 or email Ray Lutheran church at [email protected] with the subject "garden."