Plans to Upgrade Public Fruit Garden in Madison Wins AARP WI Grant

Posted on 05/11/23

grandchild whispering to her smiling grandfather while sitting on bench in park

A proposal submitted by the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association (TLNA) in Madison to add benches and more fruit plants to its popular Reynolds Community Food Garden has been selected to receive this month’s AARP Wisconsin “Small Dollar, Big Impact” grant.

AARP Wisconsin is awarding one grant each month throughout 2023 to projects across the state that are designed to improve communities and make them better places for everyone to live, work and play as they age. Judges selected this project for the $1,000 grant after reviewing dozens of proposals submitted from all over the state.

“We are pleased to see the application of ideas from AARP’s Designing Community Gardens for People of All Ages in the Tenney-Lapham Reynolds Community Food Garden enhancements,” said Darrin Wasniewski, Associate State Director of Community Outreach for AARP Wisconsin. “We look forward to learning how these small changes will make a big impact on the residents in this neighborhood.”

The TLNA built the Reynolds Community Food Garden to be a “beautiful fruit garden that everyone in the community is welcome to pick from,” said Madison resident Lauren Engelke in the project application.

“Our garden currently includes black, yellow, and red currants, sour cherry trees, rhubarb, paw-paw trees, and honeyberries,” Engelke said. “It is a place for neighbors to connect, enjoy free, nutritious fresh fruit, and let local children see how food is grown.”

Engelke called the fruit garden “an inviting spot that encourages neighbors to get out and take part, even if they don’t have space for their own garden at home.”

The TLNA plans to use some of the grant money to fill in the garden with new rhubarb and honeyberry plants. They would also like to add two benches to increase accessibility for neighbors who may not be able to stand for long periods of time.

The garden’s design incorporates the Food Forest concept of utilizing fruit-bearing perennials that will bloom year after year. “Adding in benches makes the design more accessible for intergenerational use and use across abilities,” Engelke said. “Our garden is highly visible, located within two blocks of several apartment buildings and our local K-2 school, which makes it an accessible resource for those experiencing food insecurity.”

The team said this project occupies a space separate from a traditional community garden or food pantry. As a collaboration between the neighborhood association and the City of Madison Water Utility – which owns the garden property – public access and community benefits have been baked into the project from the get-go.

“It is inclusive and has no requirements for participation. Our garden is a gathering space, a relaxation space, and an immediately accessible food source. It gives neighbors an opportunity to engage with their natural environment without the pressure of maintaining their own garden.

Tyler Lark, President of the TLNA, said the organization is “thrilled to have this support from AARP, which will allow us to continue to grow the food garden into a public resource enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. It's been such a fantastic way to bring people together and cultivate not only food, but community too.

“We hope our garden not only improves the social connection within our neighborhood and increases access to delicious local food, but also provides a model for what can be done with a small amount of public space,” he said.

The TLNA helps build a sense of community through events such as its Spring Picnic Meeting, Party in the Park, Bike to Work Week, Art Walk, Garden/Coop Tour, Yard Sale, Richard Linster Memorial Bike Ride, and Taste of Tenney.

The association also provides a voice for residents when working with the city on issues important to the neighborhood, such as transportation, safety, housing, community services, and parks.  For more information about the neighborhood, visit

AARP Wisconsin’s launched its “Small Dollar, Big Impact” grant program in 2020 and is now in its fourth year of helping proposed projects move forward in rural and urban parts of the state. The Small Dollar, Big Impact grant program is open to some nonprofits and government entities. For more information on the program, visit

This story is provided by AARP Wisconsin. Visit the AARP Wisconsin page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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