Eye on KELOLAND: Produce with a purpose

Eye on KELOLAND

HURON, S.D. (KELO) — Huron Christian Church is growing produce with a purpose through their own community garden.

For these gardeners, growing produce is a way to give back to the community.

“It was originally started just for produce for people who attended our church. But then it kind of got to the point where we produced a little too much than people wanted to take so then we kind of brainstormed and came up with the idea of bringing some of the extra produce over to some of the apartment buildings that were nearby. It’s affordable housing, some of them are kind of assisted living type situations for elderly or for people that have handicaps. So, we thought what a great way for outreach for our church to meet people in the community,” garden organizer Kent Vlieger said.

Now, the garden has grown and there are 64 open plots where anyone can come and grow their own produce at no charge.

“Most people come back every year and each year we try to expand a little bit, try to keep it somewhat organized so we don’t expand too much but every year we expand by just a little bit,” Vlieger said.

It’s about outreach and bringing people together.

“It’s a way to get people together that have something in common. So, for example, someone like me, I’m not necessarily really outgoing, and so if I want to do outreach for our church, I kind of had to find a creative way where I can meet people, and doing that was finding something we have in common, and gardening is that,” Vlieger said.

But this isn’t your typical Midwest garden. Over 90% of the plots are kept by Karen Political Refugees and they grow produce that is common in their culture.

“So, there’s a lot of leafy greens, pok choy and bok choy for example. They grow a lot of herbs. You’ll see there’s even some ginger plots that you’ll find so things that are not very traditional for South Dakota gardens for sure,” Vlieger said.

“The people that are here have seeds from different countries and they are glad to share the different kinds of diverse vegetables that they grow and they’re absolutely scrumptious and they are very nutritious,” gardener Abby Scheibe said.

Scheibe also works with the Center of Independence to allow those with disabilities to come out and work in her garden plot and she sees a great response from participants.

“It’s phenomenal. In fact, they are kind of fighting over who gets to come out to the garden, I can only have five or six people at a time, twice a week. And they’ve grown to know the people who come out here of all the different backgrounds and everybody seems to be kind of one and everybody’s comfortable here. There’s no lines of who you are and who I am, it’s us,” Scheibe said.

Vlieger works as an NRCS soil health specialist, so he finds ways to incorporate different conservation practices into the community garden.

“I practice what I preach out here. There’s no tillage, we don’t till up with a rotter tiller in the spring like is pretty tradition for a lot of gardeners. We are pretty conservative with our water use, we have drip irrigation. We plant cover crops on a quarter of our garden to help build the soil, which is what you see standing behind me here. And we do some kind of non-traditional ways to control weeds, I plant low ground cover between plants and between rows to keep weeds down. We of course rotate our crops,” Vlieger said.

11 years bringing the community together to get their hands dirty and grow some produce.

“You’ll come out here on a summer evening after that supper time hour that’s a little bit cooler part of the day and there will be 25- 30 families out here. Each plot will have, it’s not just that plot holder, they’ll take their kids with them or the grandparents, it’s kind of multi-generational will be out here too. So, it’s kind of a buzzing little place. So, you’ll run into people that are out here, they’re doing their thing in their garden, and you can walk by and say hi and how’s it going, so the best part is definitely the community we have out here,” Vlieger said.

“The people that come here from diverse backgrounds, diverse languages, we just really cherish the people that are here that sometimes we don’t have the same language, but we all have the same, you know, interest and passion and that’s growing our own food,” Scheibe said.

In a regular season, the garden produces around $10,000 worth of produce, and if they grow watermelons, that produce can weigh in at around 12,000 pounds.

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