BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)– Carl Madsen began gardening at age five, and now the 83-year-old Brookings resident uses his 78 years of garden experience to grow produce for local families in need.
Madsen, who is retired from being a Wildlife Biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, operates a 12 acre garden with his wife on their homestead, growing potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, pumpkins and squash. “Whatever we can grow, we grow.”
“Sometimes we grow things and don’t get anything, so we are not a major supplier,” Madsen said.
Even though the garden is a decent size, Madsen said getting a significant amount of food is pretty hard.
The couple used to sell vegetables, but now they donate their crop to Feeding Brookings, with the exception of his wife’s asparagus business.
The garden has been providing produce for Feeding Brookings for around seven years, Madsen said. He had some friends who volunteered with the organization, and Madsen donated some cabbages one year and that is how this partnership began.
Aidan Bunkers, Board for Feeding Brookings, said that due to food scarcity the organization doesn’t receive a lot of produce, so Madsen’s gardening efforts provide a lot of produce for community members in need.
“It’s a huge thing,” Bunkers said. “Produce is actually expensive to buy, so a lot of our funding we can’t buy it with it, it’s hard to get, hard to keep fresh and so this provides a lot of produce for us.”
There are about over 240 families, roughly, every week who come to Feeding Brookings, Bunkers said.
“How many people are in each family, that’s a different story,” Bunkers said. “I mean we reach 500 plus people just for Feeding Brookings.”
As Madsen has gotten older, his health has begun to decline, which is why he now has volunteers helping with his gardening operation. It started with a few friends helping, and now that has increased to a larger group, consisting of people that Madsen is friends with.
“We’ve got quite a crew here,” Madsen said.
Bunkers says that Madsen does the organizing of the volunteers for the garden himself; Bunkers is the only volunteer from Feeding Brookings who comes out and he does that once a week.
Bunkers began working for Madsen when he was twelve years old, but now he helps as a volunteer.
“It’s something I love and it’s something he loves,” Bunkers said.
Bunkers enjoys getting to learn from Madsen and hear his stories. “He’s a classic.”
One of Madsen’s favorites parts of donating to Feeding Brookings is loading up the produce and sending it in, he said. He used to haul it all in himself, but now there is a volunteer crew who comes in with a truck to haul it to the organization.
“A tub full of potatoes like that is a hundred pounds and I don’t lift them anymore,” Madsen said.
Sometimes, Madsen is a little short of volunteers during the summer.
“Planting is fun, but pulling weeds is not so fun,” Madsen said. “So some people show up and they pull weeds for me.”
He cultivates his fields with tractors when he can. “I try to put things in the ground so I can cultivate with machinery and eliminate the handwork as much as I can, but there is still some hoeing and handwork to be done.”
Today, KELOLAND News joined Madsen and his volunteer crew as they planted potatoes. The crew uses antique equipment that is over one hundred years old.
Madsen says the potato planting process consists of purchasing potatoes, cutting them into pieces with their antique potato cutter and then putting them in the ground.
In addition to growing food for Feeding Brookings, Madsen has a pumpkin patch where he plants 1,000-1,500 pumpkin seeds and in the fall he has a children’s pumpkin day at the garden where kids can pick out a for free pumpkin and paint it. There is also a team of horses there to give rides around the garden.
Madsen said the children’s pumpkin day draws in around 200 kids every year.