Partnering with a Pilates business – Studio Joy in Ripon – the non-profit organization Garden Joy continues to grow.
First started in 2017, the community garden project is a teaching tool and also benefits area food pantries, the produce grown there donated to help those in need.
“There’s about an acre space,” said co-founder and Executive Director Sarah Darpinian of the lot behind the 929 W. Main S., Ripon, Pilates studio. Some of the space, she said, is used for classes and the rest is devoted primarily to the garden itself, with a wide variety of produce growing there. There are also some picnic tables and a small children’s play area, in addition to ornamental plants and fruit trees.
“We have free classes for any children in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties,” Darpinian explained. “We do have a few paid classes but the majority are free and they are open for anyone to come to, they cover gardening, earth science and nature concepts.”
The move to West Main Street occurred in 2019, after the non-profit outgrew its original location. They were able to reach an agreement with Studio Joy and “transformed an overgrown lot, full of weeds and no irrigation” to the flourishing garden that it is today, said Darpinian.
Though they share the word ‘Joy’ in their name, Darpinian said Studio Joy and Garden Joy are two separate entities, as the Pilates studio is a for-profit business and the garden is a non-profit.
“All the food we grow, we donate to food pantries and children’s crisis centers” in the area, the executive director shared.
The free classes for children run from March through October, hosted the third Saturday of each month from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
“The program is an hour, then there is time to work in the garden,” Darpinian said of the hands-on learning experience.
They also partner with Ripon Elementary School to offer classes to school children there on a regular basis.
On the horizon is an expansion into offering classes for adults, as one of the Garden Joy board members is currently training to be a Master Gardener through the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and will soon be able to provide workshops and classes on pest management, water wise practices and more.
Monthly programs on the schedule for 2022 for youngsters include: March, Garden Bug, Friend or Foe; April, Hens and Chicks; May, Flower Dissection; June, Plant Parts That We Eat; July, Kindness in the Garden; August, Pollinator and Plant Pairings; September, Apple Pollination Cycle and Tasting; October, Winter Planting and Creation of a Rain Gauge.
Darpinian said the monthly classes provide a well-rounded experience for the young attendees.
“They always do themed lessons, they come with a craft, a story, and then the kids get to work in the garden,” she explained. “Every third Saturday we also have work days that coincide with the children’s classes; the workday is 9 a.m. to noon, so families come, they can all work together. And we get a lot of high school students that need service hours.”
Garden Joy has a presence on social media as well, with an Instagram, Facebook and a website, www.gardenjoyca.com to keep their name and activities in public view.
Vegetables planted in the garden range from squash to cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, among others, along with fruit trees including lemons, permissions and figs, while some herbs are grown on site as well.
“We have done some cooking classes and we are going to do more of those, in conjunction with the Ripon Farmers Market,” added Darpinian.
The weekly market, which runs Thursday nights, is scheduled from May 5 through Sept. 29 for 2022 and is hosted in the Studio Joy parking lot in Ripon, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“All the vendors pay a fee to be there, that fee benefits Garden Joy,” Darpinian said.
Five years ago, when Darpinian and her friend and organization co-founder Elizabeth Schuiling started Garden Joy, they really didn’t know it would take on such importance for the community.
“We both homeschool our kids, and we thought, this would be fun to do and probably there were other kids that want to know where their food comes from, since we are in the heart of the Central Valley,” Darpinian explained of the impetus for the organization.
They originally rented a couple of garden boxes from the Ripon Community Garden, an organization that rents out space for those that want to garden but don’t have the land available where they live.
“We started there and rented a couple of boxes from them; we had 70 kids come to our first meeting,” she explained.
After about a year and a half with the planter box rentals, it became clear that they would soon outgrow the location.
“We learned Studio Joy wanted to put a garden behind where they are now; we talked to Studio Joy and it was an instant match,” noted Darpinian.
And while Schuiling is no longer involved, Darpinian said it has been a true joy to see their small idea grow exponentially.
“We like it, the kids seem to like it; we have been blessed with a lot of community support,” she said.
And she added that sharing the wealth, donating the food to those in need, has been the best benefit of all.
“It’s hard for them to grasp sometimes that there are kids in our area that don’t have enough to eat,” Darpinian pointed out of the youngsters involved with the program. “The kids seem to really love it; they feel that they are really making a difference.”
For more information, contact Darpinian via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209-818-7177.