The former Ronceverte Community Garden has blossomed thanks to the work of Gateway Industries management and employees.
Guests to Jardin by the River, the former pool space, are first greeted by the “bathing beauties,” mannequins with older swimsuits. Next, they pass through the former pool house into the sprawling garden located within, rows of flowers taking center stage, decorated on either side with peach trees, a greenhouse, outdoor meeting space, tomato plants, sunflowers taking root, and a lone sign in the center declaring “No Lifeguard On Duty: Swim At Your Own Risk.”
|The former community pool.|
The program serves as “a horticultural training project for its program participants,” growing “fresh vegetables and flowers.” The garden is full of flowers of all types, the greenhouse is full of tomatoes, the trees are full of peaches, and the seed room is being prepared for the next growth cycle. Much of this produce goes to local businesses, Gateway Industries workers, and their families.
“We could have a lot of fried green tomato sandwiches,” joked Gateway Executive Director Phyllis Fern Cantrell.
|The former kid’s pool|
In November of 2018, Ronceverte City Council approved handing over the reins of the community garden to Gateway Industries in a five-year contract that specified Gateway is also responsible for maintenance and utility costs.
“What they’re proposing is a fantastic program for their clients,” explained then-Ronceverte Mayor David Smith. “It’s a really good opportunity — we’ve got somebody taking care of it. [Care for the garden] was working pretty well until the flood, [but then] it ended. Nobody was there last summer and this summer there were only a couple of spots taken. I think this is a good move for the city as well as Gateway.”
Council’s main concern before approving the lease was damage done to the garden during the flood of 2016.
“At that time, there had been a community garden here, a very small one,” Cantrell said. “We came in and the place hadn’t been touched since 2016. … We did everything, painting, clearing, I burned lots of piles of wood in my burn pile. We went to the dump, it was awful.”
The garden is now in gorgeous shape, aided by the workers of Gateway Industries, a freshly installed watering system, and good weather.
“It took almost a year to name it,” Cantrell explained. “A friend of mine suggested Jardin, that’s french for garden, and another friend said By The River, so that’s us. Jardin by the River.”
Influencing the name is the city itself — Ronceverte itself is a French name, coming from “ronce verte,” meaning “green brier” or “bramble green.”
Gateway Industries is a domestic nonprofit established in 1979 focusing on educational services and educational support services.
“We’ve been in business for over 40 years,” Cantrell said. “We employ people with disabilities and people without disabilities… right now we’re 75 percent disabled and 25 nondisabled. … There are all kinds of programs through the Division of Rehab Services. That’s where we get most of our workers – each person who comes here needs help, and all the support they can get. We hire them, we train them.”
And what do they work on?
“We have four contracts with the federal government and make four products,” Cantrell said. “They are a stainless steel frame mirror, a painter’s plastic drum cloth, a vinyl food handler apron, and an impermeable laboratory apron. We’ve been making them for years. [We’re] doing total facility maintenance, it’s security, parking lot clean up, lawn mowing, snow removal, bathrooms, and we work right along with the state employees. We clean the DRS, the DHHR, DOH, in three counties. … We’re Greenbrier County’s best-kept secret.”
Jardin by the river is now one of those many work possibilities. Cantrell said that on a typical day, about five workers tend to the garden and building.
Springing from the name, the entire property is now French-themed in decorations and names. A French flag hangs below the United States flag on the pole outside the building, which serves as a space for retail sales, including artwork by employees of the company who are disabled or have autism, rentable meeting space, an engraving business, and a place to work with drying plants and seeds.
Once inside, directly to the left of the main entrance is a small-party meeting space that used to be something very different.
“When you came in to go swimming, there was a person sitting here that you would pay your money to. We had to put a whole new window in, it was all rotted out. Some of the snacks were also stored back in here.”
|The entire Jardin is French-themed, even inside the pool house. Money collection and snacks used to be kept in this room.|
Further back is the zen room, which is both a quiet place to sit and a place to let plants dry.
A booklet created by Gateway described the project, packed with photos showing development, saying “Jardin by the River is an initiative of Gateway Industries, developing a new approach to employment and training opportunities to the community and affordable projects in partnership with rural health concerns,” Gateway wrote about the project. “Please visit our retail shop for unique garden, art, and gift ideas. We can now host your Spring, Summer, and Fall events at our beautiful jardin.”
Jardin is located in Island Park — to learn more visit gatewayindustrieswv.org/jardin-by-the-river, follow their Facebook page, Jardin by the River.
If you have photos of the Ronceverte Community Pool of the past, contact Cantrell at firstname.lastname@example.org — she hopes to create a collage that shows the building’s history.
|Jardin by the River|
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