May 16, 2021

Riner nursery is planting for a better tomorrow

As seen on https://roanoke.com/
Tonia Moxley – May 16, 2021

RINER — Herbs have been used as medicine for much of human history, and today one local nursery is using them to fight another widespread problem: hunger.

Riverbend Nursery is setting aside a portion of sales from its “Blue Ridge Grown” line of herb, fruit and vegetable plants to donate to hunger relief programs.

“I think back to the pandemic last year, and when that all started, you know, we kind of saw some of the cracks that exist within our food security here in this country,” Riverbend CEO Steve Ronyak said.

“Here at the nursery, we were working through it all,” he said. “And we were all fortunate that people were buying our products.”

As people were thrown out of work by coronavirus lockdowns, local food pantries struggled to keep up with demand. Riverbend held a donation drive to benefit hunger relief that raised $3,000 from its close to 100 workers. Ronyak said the money was donated to local aid organizations and programs.

Then the business looked at what else it could do, he said.

Recently, Riverbend had started a new line of herbs, vegetables and fruits called “Blue Ridge Grown.”

When thinking about a larger hunger relief program, Ronyak said Blue Ridge Grown seemed like a good fit. Now through its new “planting a better tomorrow” project, Riverbend has pledged to donate about $3 for every 18 Blue Ridge Grown garden starts it sells to its wholesale customers this season.

The donation will be made in the fall, according to a Riverbend news release.

The nursery doesn’t do retail sales, but distributes its products to independent garden centers across the Mid-Atlantic and beyond.

So far, Ronyak said about a dozen of its retail partners have agreed to donate additional amounts on their sales of the Blue Ridge Grown line. Ronyak declined to name those participating retailers but said they are based in several states, including Virginia.

The need for food relief has grown with the lagging pandemic economy. Before the pandemic, the rate of Virginians facing food insecurity was about 10%, according to the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. By June of last year, that number had risen to 22%.

In Southwest Virginia today, about one in eight people are at risk of going hungry, and one in five children face food insecurity, according to Feeding Southwest Virginia, a regional hunger relief organization.

The need extends across the country, and Ronyak said he hopes Riverbend can cultivate a hunger relief effort that will outgrow its own reach.

“My goal is to really nationalize this program,” he said. “So what I would like to do is partner with other growers, who serve independent garden centers … and have them be part of the give back and see what we can grow this into.”

Established 30 years ago and now operating on 100 acres overlooking the Little River, Riverbend is a wholesale-only greenhouse grower of perennials, herbs, ground cover plants and ornamental grasses. They supply independent garden centers from New Jersey to Alabama and as far west as Ohio and Tennessee, Ronyak said.

The nursery distributes about 2.5 million container plants annually, according to its website.

Riverbend also has a separate green roof growing operation on 40 acres off Childress Road in Riner that supplies commercial and residential clients.

For more information, visit https://riverbendnursery.com.

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