Retail Construction Services, Inc. is dedicated to giving back.

We give back not only to those in need within our community, but also the future generations of this wonderful community. What started out as a great idea has grown exponentially and has become an amazing reality. Here at the RCS Giving Garden, school groups, master gardeners, corporate volunteers, and our own employees work together for the common good of teaching children the art of gardening and the importance of healthy eating. Click Here for Full Story.

Retail Construction Services, Inc.
11343 39th Street N.
Lake Elmo, MN 55042

From HWY 36 - go south on Lake Elmo Ave, turn left onto 39th Street, garden is at corner of 39th and Laverne.
From HWY 5- going west from Stillwater take right onto Laverne (near Fury dealership) garden is on the right at corner of Laverne and 39th street.

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The RCS Giving Garden

The RCS Giving Garden


A Healed Femur

The RCS Giving Garden is in desperate need of volunteers to help with picking produce and keeping up on the weeding. Last week we put out a plea for help to several local groups; one of which was the Washington County Master Gardener program (WCMG). The response from this group has been absolutely wonderful!

Paul Richtman
Master Gardener
This past Monday morning, I pulled into the parking lot and could see someone quietly weeding away in the garden… It was Paul Richtman, one of the Master Gardeners who has helped us with so many projects since the garden began in 2009. What a wonderful surprise! Paul has to be one of the fastest garden weeders I know! By the time I went to snap a photo of him in the garden, he was gone… and so were many, many, many weeds as was evidenced by the piles of weeds he pulled! So, this photo of Paul is from planting day this spring. (We will catch you next time Paul!)

At last Thursday’s WCMG meeting, Paul spoke to the group about the desperate need of help at the Giving Garden. After emails with WCMG and Paul’s pitch, we have received interest from three others.

Kathy Luoma
Master Gardener
One of the Master Gardeners that stepped forward is Kathy Luoma. Kathy is a new Master Gardener and is also a former elementary teacher who has been volunteering with kids through the schools and doing volunteer gardening work at Rutherford Elementary in Stillwater. Kathy came out to the garden this past Tuesday, July 31st, to learn about the garden and the volunteer possibilities. She has some wonderful ideas she is working on and also offered to bring volunteers out with her to the garden.

It was another scorcher in the garden, but despite the heat, Kathy asked if she could work on a project for us. We had her trim cucumber vines and get the run-away runners onto the structures. Not only did she do this to the entire cucumber patch in that mid-afternoon heat, but she weeded both rows! WOW!

Click any Photo to Enlarge
Someone asked the anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978), "What is the first sign you look for, to tell you of an ancient civilization?" The interviewer had in mind a tool or article of clothing. Ms. Mead surprised him by answering, a "healed femur". When someone breaks a femur, they can't survive to hunt, fish or escape enemies unless they have help from someone else. Thus, a healed femur indicates that someone else helped that person, rather than abandoning them and saving themselves. Isn't that what we in philanthropy are all about? Healing femurs of one sort or another?

Paul and Kathy – we extend the most sincere “thank you” to both of you… Your volunteer time in the garden not only helps with the day-to-day garden tasks, but you are healing a femur of sorts ---- a break we had in volunteers that needed healing.

Thank you for helping heal the garden
with your time and talents!


The Mystery of the Baby Cabbages!

 Today the garden unfolded some pretty exciting learning opportunities… not only for the students, but for us as well!

We have cabbage plants that we have already harvested the main cabbage head. Some of the students were very observant and notice what seemed like several ‘small’ cabbages starting to grow! Hmmm? How could this be? We thought you typically got one cabbage head per plant. So, we have turned to the expertise of the Washington County Master Gardeners. When we find out the answer, we will let everyone know!

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Rosemary Plant
We had two herbs, Rosemary and Basil, ready to harvest and bring to the food shelf today. The students had an opportunity to not only taste the herbs, but to gently run their hands on them and inhale… deeply…. The wonderful smell of the herbs! Based on the number of students I saw with their hands up to their nose, and inhaling --- deeply ---- and saying “Oh that smells soooooo good!” – the smelling part was a big hit!

Rosemary is a versatile, aromatic herb. It is used in a wide variety of dishes, including fruit salads, soups, vegetables, meats (especially lamb), fish, eggs, stuffing’s, dressings and even desserts. It is also used to scent cosmetics and perfumes, in insect repellents, and has medicinal uses. Fun fact about Rosemary: Ancient Greeks believed that Rosemary was a magical plant that could strengthen memory.

Sweet Basil Plant
Basil, the tomato's soul mate, basil offsets the acidity of any tomato-based food. It also goes will with peppers, zucchini, and beans, making it THE summer herb. Pesto sauce - made from pounded basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil - on fresh angel hair pasta is indeed heavenly. Add fresh leaves to a summer salad; cover tomato slices with fresh mozzarella and olive oil, and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil for a classic Caprese dish; basil is also widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Fun fact about Basil: Ancient Greeks and Romans thought basil would only grow if you screamed wild curses and shouted while sowing the seeds. Can you imagine the fun of watching someone screaming at seeds as they plant them?!!!

Thank you SPIN Students!
We were wondering...
How long did the herb smell stay on your hands?!

Click to start photo slideshow!


Sweating Angels Set New 2012 Daily Picking Record! 85.75 lbs!

Lauryn, Kati, Robb, Jeff, Christine, Charlene, and Cata
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I've seen and met angels wearing the disguise
of ordinary people living ordinary lives.
~Tracy Chapman

Today was one of the most humid days of the year, but the Summer Stretch group from Woodbury Episcopal Church put a lot of “sweat” into the garden!  This group was not only engaged, but as the pictures above show - fun, fun, fun to work with!!!

We talked about the Giving Garden, of purple green beans and how zucchini has more potassium than bananas…. But we talked about the extinction of so many vegetable and fruit varieties. Did you know that Andean farmers once grew some 4,000 potato varieties, each with its own name, flavor, and use, ranging in size from tiny to gigantic and covering the color spectrum from indigo-purple to red, orange, yellow and white?

Christine with an Heirloom Tomato!
 It use to be that people ate what they grew locally and what was in season. With the increased appetite for produce that was out of season (eating strawberries in October as an example), and the increased demand to ship produce all over the world, farmers had to start breeding hybrid varieties that held up in boxcars, trucks, or ship’s cargo.

Now, even in the regions of Peru least affected by the modern market, only a few dozen potato varieties are widely grown.

We all know about the extinction of animals, but few people realize that plant species are dying out at an alarming weight. Heirloom gardeners, through growing and saving seeds of treasured crops, are ensuring that these plants won't become extinct. In addition, keeping diversity in our food chain protects us against large plagues or crop failures.

What is Heirloom? Heirloom vegetables and fruit are old, open-pollinated, and mostly non-hybrid. Some heirlooms are hundreds of years old, and others originated around the turn of the 20th century. One of the places you can purchase a wide variety of heirloom seeds is through Seed Savers (click to visit website).  Seed Savers is an organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds.

Each year in the Giving Garden we have tried to introduce a new heirloom vegetable or fruit (like tomatoes) to the garden. The first year we introduced a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes such as SunGolds and Brandywine tomatoes. The second year we introduced an heirloom variety of white eggplant. Last year we included heirloom lettuce and finally this year we planted purple beans and dragon carrots.

Other reasons to grow Heirlooms:

Jeff harvesting cabbage
  • Wider Variety. When you have access to plants that were grown by previous generations, you also get to experience the thrill of having a huge variety of plants available to you. For example, the Seed Savers Exchange, which deals solely in heirlooms, has had as many as 77 varieties of tomatoes in their catalog. Unless you have acreage, it would take years just to try them all. And among those 77 varieties is every color, size, and flavor of tomato imaginable.
  • Better Flavor. In many cases, hybridizers have chosen properties like disease resistance and heavy yields over flavor. Fans of heirlooms will argue that many of the best tasting crops come from heirloom plants.
  • Biogenetic Diversity. Because plant species are dying out at an alarming weight, heirloom gardeners, through growing and saving seeds of treasured crops, are ensuring that these plants won't become extinct. In addition, keeping diversity in our food chain protects us against large plagues or crop failures. While hybrid seeds produce disease resistant and heavier yield crops, the seeds the crops produce are sterile and if planted, will not produce.
  • Frugality. Growing heirlooms is a frugal way to have a bountiful garden. Each season, you can grow the crop, harvest the food, save the seeds, and store them to grow next year's garden. If you save a lot of seed, you can even get involved in seed exchanges with other heirloom gardeners to get more diversity in your garden.
The Summer Stretch had the opportunity to harvest the first donation of eggplant from the garden this season! Eggplants aren’t REALLY vegetables, they’re berries. Which isn’t that strange, considering other fruits are commonly mistaken for vegetables – like tomatoes. You can tell if an eggplant is fresh by gently pressing your finger against it. If an eggplant is fresh, when you press your finger against it, the fingerprint will disappear quickly.

Thank you again to an amazing group who pushed through the heat, enjoyed a reprieve in the kitchen to cool off, and donated a new 2012 record of 85.75 lbs of food!

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Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration.
~Lou Erickson

(Click to start slideshow of photos!)


Garden Experiments and LOTS of Onions...

L to R:  Emma, Jacob and Jordyn
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A smaller group of SPIN students joined us in the garden this morning. We taught them about the magical purple beans that turn green when you steam them! (see the article on this blog from 07/19/12) Each student picked a handful of these magical beans to take home to their families to show them how they turn green and to try and restore the purple color by soaking them overnight in lemon juice and olive oil! We are excited to hear back next week from the students on how their experiments worked out.

We had two new crops to harvest today; cabbage and onions… Lots and lots and LOTS of onions! Did you know that according to an old English Rhyme, the thickness of an onion skin can help predict the severity of the winter. Thin skins mean a mild winter is coming while thick skins indicate a rough winter ahead. We are going to have to take a look at this next week and see if we can figure out what kind of winter we are going to have!

Thanks again SPIN Students, you are hard workers and great finders of all of the hidden cucumbers and zucchini!
(Click to start photo video)


Purple beans? Preposterous!

Purple Beans get their colorful hue from a
natural group of chemicals called anthocyanins.
(Click any photo to enlarge)
Our Royal Burgundy Beans were ready to start harvesting in the garden today.  In reading articles on these beautiful purple beans, I found that there is a natural group of chemicals, called anthocyanins, that puts the purple in purple green beans, as well as in grapes, plums and purple broccoli. It is also found in some blue hued flowers.

Yellows and oranges veggie colors come from carotenoids, which also are responsible for certain reds in plants. In the case of beets, the red comes from yet another natural pigment, called betacyanin.

The Chameleon of Veggies: We all know that chameleons change the color of their skin to blend in with their environment… but did you know that when you steam or boil purple beans that they turn green?! They do! The heat of cooking causes decomposition of anthocyanin. The less anthocyanin, the less purple.
Cooked Purple Bean to the Left
Raw Purple Bean to the right...

A similar thing happens when you cook red cabbage. It turns colorless after awhile. You can also expect purple broccoli, purple asparagus, purple tomatillos, even purple peppers to lose their purple color after cooking. Red peppers stay red, though, because carotenoids give them their red color.

So why plant purple beans if it’s going to turn green anyway after you cook it? They taste the same as green beans, so why?

1. In nature, anthocyanins help in attracting insects to flowers and protecting plants from ultraviolet radiation, which is why you find purple in so many mountain plants. Carrot shoulders exposed to sunlight sometimes even turn a purple hue.

2. The color can be very pretty in the vegetable garden.

3. Because Royal Burgundy's leaves stay green, it is easier to pick out the purple pods from among the leaves making it easier to pick them.

4. Because of their purple color, green cabbage worms on purple broccoli and red cabbage as well as other insects on the purple beans are more noticeable for birds to find and eat!

So, what if you want to keep the purple color when you eat them? Well, there is always the option of raw… but I did read another article where someone was able to have the purple beans retain their pretty purple color for a great salad idea. They cooked the purple beans until al dente and then cooled them. They then soaked them in lemon juice, olive oil, onions, garlic, and seasonings. After soaking the beans over night, some of the purple hue came back. Sounds like a good experiment for a beautiful salad!


Mud-luscious and Puddle-wonderful

Photo taken before harvesting in the mud and dirt!
Front Row L to R:  Cecil, Michael, Jordyn and Megan
Back Row L to R:  Kristin, Mckenzie, Matt, Logan and Jonathan
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
"The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful."
~E.E. Cummings

The rain storms rumbled through the area this morning, leaving behind a nourished, but a muddy garden! It did not stop the SPIN students from being real troupers and coming to the garden and play in the dirt. Not all areas of the garden were muddy, but the raspberry and onion area was pretty messy!  Tammy - your poor feet!!!

They spent the morning harvesting some of our newest crops; broccoli, beans, pea pods and chocolate peppers. They also harvested a few zucchini, raspberries and lettuce.

There were questions about what exactly a “chocolate pepper” was. Well, they don’t taste like chocolate! It is a pepper that is sweeter than most other bell peppers. Chocolate Beauty has high-quality, green fruits that are in a lobe bell shape. As they mature, they turn from green to a unique, rich mahogany-chocolate color… come to think about it, the color of that mud today!!! So while these won’t make it between graham crackers with a roasted marshmallow, they would be delicious to add to many other meals.

The next task was finding sticks to harvest a crop of caked mud out of the bottom of some very new tennis shoes!

Thank you SPIN Students for coming out and getting dirty in order to make sure this fresh food made it to the food shelf before the weekend. Your efforts today will enjoyed in many homes this weekend!


Summer Stretch Shares More Photos - Just add Music Courtesy of Louis Armstrong - And Enjoy!

Carla McGough was kind enough to share additional photos from the
Summer Stretch visit to the Giving Garden yesterday! 
Enjoy, and "thank you" Carla.


A Garden of Helping Hands (or should we say gloves...!)

Back Row L to R:  Nik and Sam
Middle Row L to R:  Jacob, Joe, Quinn, Jackson, Chandler and Deborah
Front Row L to R:  Luke, Ben, Jacques, Blake, Joe, Amara and Sean
(Click on all photos to enlarge)

The hands have it...! And wow, did we have many hands in the garden today! Fifteen students from Christ Church’s Summer Stretch Program arrived in the garden this morning along with their instructors. The garden was filled with bright yellow shirts, bright smiles, water bottles, hats and a sea of gloves, gloves, gloves everywhere!

The Summer Stretch group worked on removing the weeds around the base of the tomato plants as well from around other plants in first section of the garden. They harvested beans, sugar snap pea pods and zucchini. We had fun weighing bag after bag after bag of produce while one of the students kept a running total. Everyone was trying to guess how much food they had picked with guesses ranging from 50 lbs to a million pounds!

Drum roll please……..!!! Christ Church Summer Stretch picked 75 lbs of produce today, more than doubling our existing 70.5lbs donated so far this year!

The goal of all of these helping hands (gloves) is so simple... For others to join us in the giving garden, or share the harvest from their own gardens, so that this community will become known as the community that helped eliminate hunger simply by growing gardens.

Thank you to all of the students and instructors who joined us in the garden today - what a great job!  Give yourself a hand!  We look forward to the next time you can join us!

“As you grow older,
you will discover that you have two hands,
one for helping yourself,
the other for helping others.”
– Audrey Hepburn


Double Double Duty!

Front Row L to R:  Mary, Karla, Liz, Angelina and Joe
Back Row L to R:  Henry, Elliot, Charlie, Lucas, Gabi, Emily, Tom, Jaymen, Sarah and Josh
(Click on all photos to enlarge)
Front Row L to R:  Sam, Race, Victoria and Jake
Back Row L to R:  Blake, Tom and Charlie
This was a day of double duty!  The St. Croix Valley ALC Students come out to the garden during a quiet vacation week to help with weeding...  Not once, but twice.  There was a larger group in the morning, and a smaller group in the afternoon.  Not only do these students try and find time to come and help out at the Giving Garden, but they have started their own garden at the school.  Real double duty!

You can follow their progress at:

Congratulations St. Croix Valley ALC on this most wonderful project!