This year Katherine Montague’s garden didn’t produce much.
“The radishes didn’t like the heat and the watermelons didn’t like the soil,” Montague explains.
But, that didn’t keep the 57-year-old Lakota Homes resident from eating fresh vegetables. “My neighbors shared cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant. I feel the community garden helps me eat healthier because when someone gives you fresh vegetables, or if you grow them, you cook them,” says Montague, who cut up the cucumber to make a cucumber and onion salad like her mom used to make and utilized the zucchini and eggplant to enhance homemade soups.
Her experiences with generous neighbors and garden produce are some of the reasons the Lakota Homes neighborhood asked SDSU Extension to help them establish a community garden in 2016, says Prairey Walkling, SDSU Extension Family & Community Health Field Specialist.
“We’re working with communities to help provide accessible and affordable fruits and vegetables. The Lakota Homes Board expressed interest in having a community garden to provide healthy and affordable vegetables as well as a place within the community to gather,” Walkling says. “It’s our hope that this garden becomes a positive place for residents to gather into the future.”
Following direction from the Lakota Homes Board, SDSU Extension staff and neighborhood volunteers tilled up a garden spot in the neighborhood commons.
Lakota Homes Oyate Community Garden season 1 went OK, but Walkling and the Lakota Homes Board began to see that due to the age of the gardening residents, raised beds would be much more comfortable and make weeding and harvesting easier.
Neighbors were also asking for a fence.
“There are a lot of kids playing ball and running around in the area where the garden is. So, we needed a fence to protect the plants and keep the deer and rabbits out,” explains Delores Allen, a retiree who loves to garden and enjoys the community aspect of a communal gardening space. “Although I know most of my neighbors, we end up visiting more when we are in the garden.”
To help fund materials, labor and gardening soil to construct a raised bed garden and fence, Walkling wrote and received a $2,000 grant from Farm Credit Services of America Working Here Fund which funds projects that make a positive impact in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. The project also received grant dollars from the South Dakota Master Gardener Earl Dailey Memorial Endowment Grant.
Walkling also reached out to Scull Construction Service, a locally-owned business known for their generosity. “We donated labor and materials because they asked us,” says Mike Jubie, director of business development. “We’ve been in this community for 33 years and giving back is a core value of our company.”
Jubie worked with another local company, Knecht Home Center, and was able to purchase materials at a reduced rate. Jim Scull also teamed up with Hani Shaffi of Dream Design to donate an additional $1,700 necessary to complete the project.
Employees from Scull Construction volunteered their time to build 12 raised beds measuring 4-foot-by-8-foot and a fence tall enough to keep deer out.
“It’s always good to give back to the Native American community,” explains Casey Cuny, a project engineer for Scull Construction and a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.
Enthusiastic neighbors began planting vegetables in raised beds even before the project was complete. “This garden has become a special place for this community. We are going to continue to support this project as they ask for our involvement,” Walkling says. “Piece-by-piece, year-by-year, we are working toward the goal.”
Montague says the community garden makes her proud of her neighborhood. “HUD housing is designed to lift people and help them lead better and enhanced lives. That’s what this garden does, it enhances our lives.”