Avera employees growing a sense of community through the St. Isidore Garden

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– Avera employees are able to grow their own produce, while creating a sense of community through the St. Isidore garden.

Tom Bosch, Vice President of Hospitality at Avera McKennan, said this is their 12th year of planting the garden.

The garden was created after Avera McKennan purchased some houses across the street from their campus and wanted to have something that can make a difference while giving back to the employees.

The sisters bless the garden every year, Bosch said. The garden consists of 56 plots that are 8 feet by 20 feet and it is offered to employees and provides them with an opportunity to come to the garden and plant and collect a bountiful harvest.

There is not only produce, but flowers as well.

During this difficult time of the pandemic, the garden has been a therapeutic escape for employees as well.

“Last year, we’re in the midst of COVID, and we actually weren’t going to have a garden,” he said. “And then, I’m going to give credit to my wife Amy, said ‘I love doing the garden’ – we’ve done it every year- so she said I’ll volunteer, I’ll pick it up.”

The response that they have received has been great, Bosch said.

“The overall response that we have received from employees and their families are ‘thank you for doing this’ because it is therapeutic, you know, to dig into the dirt, those nasty weeds are always disguising but there is something to be sad to go into a garden filled with weeds, clear it all out, and then you’ve got the beauty of the vegetables and the flowers that we have as well.”

Some families keep their produce grown in the garden, but it often produces more than they need, so some families donate their produce, Bosch said. They donate to the Walsh Family Village, the food pantry or pass it along to family and friends as well.

“Really, it’s an outreach of serving themselves, but also serving the community,” he said.

Right now, they also have a basket of produce outside of the garden, that community members are welcome to take.

There is never a day that goes by that people aren’t out working in the garden, Bosch said. Weekends are the busiest, but they also see a lot of people out in the evenings when the weather has cooled down.

“Avera is all about a sense of community, so it creates a garden community,” he said.

The gardeners connect with each other through a group Facebook page, where they can ask questions and give advice.

As gardeners have gotten to know each other, some of them have started gardening together or requesting plots next to each other, Bosch said.

Bosch’s family has four Avera employees, so they were able to get their plots next to each other and they are able to grow their produce together.

This year, one of his favorite things they planted was heirloom beans, which are stripped but once they are boiled, they turn white. They also always look forward to the fresh tomatoes and peppers.

“When you’re doing it yourself and spending time digging in the earth and planting there really isn’t anything better than just something, a fresh produce, it’s kind of that farm-to-table, you pick it off the plant and you go ahead and put it in your mouth an hour later,” he said.

The garden not only has two water sources, but they also have a shed full of tools and equipment that has been donated by gardeners, he said.

They also have a beautiful covering, where people can sit outside of the garden, which was donated by architects. There are also memory bricks that have been created with the immigrant populations, Bosch said.

“These bricks are pretty powerful because they are decorated by children that had been in countries that had gone through some civil unrest and civil war, so it’s really therapeutic as well that we have which is wonderful,” he said.

Avera on Louise Health Campus has also begun doing this gardening on their campus. They now have 20 plots.

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