Ready, Set, Grow! Gardening programs offer bevy of benefits to South Dakota communities

Gardeners will attest that nothing beats a homegrown tomato – or any homegrown produce for that matter. And, that's certainly part of the reason that Master Gardener, community garden and farmers market programs have flourished.

As a testament, several communities across South Dakota are working with SDSU Extension and focusing their efforts on gardening and locally grown produce. But there's more to these programs than just the delectable fruits and vegetables that are harvested.

Marla Reede, who was on the board that formed the Lemmon Area Farmers Market last year and is currently working to establish a community garden for Lemmon residents, explains it this way: "I feel this helps our community by establishing a sense of unity among fellow gardeners and growers while also spreading these healthy, home grown products around."

In Wagner, Amy Boom has worked with SDSU Extension through the Wagner Horizons Project over the past three years. She says, "Community gardens create friendships and build social capital. We have found in Wagner that social capital is the most important asset our community possesses."

Wagner launched its community garden in May and held its first farmers market June 1, with the market to be held every Friday throughout the summer. Chat nights among gardeners are planned at the garden throughout the summer, and a grant has been applied for to have an EBT (Food Stamp) machine at the farmers market so that all income levels can have access to the fresh, local produce.

Jeff Stewart, who is working alongside Boom to make the Wagner Farmers Market a success, says the reward is in seeing locally produced, healthy food sold back into the community.

Steve Hernandez, works with SDSU Extension as the Beginning Farmer/Rancher program manager on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He shares similar sentiments, saying, "Our garden projects and farmers market are very important to our communities. We are able to provide healthy food to our community members at affordable prices and the convenience of buying local. In addition, we are able to teach sustainable gardening techniques with the intent of having more gardeners participate in our farmers markets as well as being able to provide for their own family needs."

Pine Ridge has offered the gardening program for three years and is in the second year of their farmers market. Hernandez says feedback has been positive and he is optimistic for the future. He says, "Our goal is to saturate the reservation with vegetables and address our health disparities such as diabetes and heart disease. Currently, we are limited to the availability of fresh and affordable produce."

Recipe For Success

Chris Zdorovtsov, SDSU Extension community development field specialist, believes the gardening and farmers market effort can be a recipe for success for rural communities because it increases access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and the money for those products is staying in the local community.

"This can help create some sustainability for the economy in rural communities," she states.

To that end, SDSU Extension has been a dedicated partner helping communities across the state achieve their gardening and farmers market goals.

A long-term example of this is the Master Gardener training program that Extension has offered since 1984. To date, more than 1,300 South Dakotans have graduated from the program – participants must complete 60 hours of classwork and volunteer 50 hours before being certified as a Master Gardener.

 Rhoda Burrows, SDSU Extension horticulture specialist and Master Gardener coordinator, says, "Master Gardener volunteers are a key element in providing horticulture information to South Dakotans. They are a very enthusiastic and dedicated set of volunteers who benefit from having training similar to a University-level horticulture course, and are excited to share that knowledge with others."

 Zdorovtsov says that often Master Gardeners become mentors who provide expertise for community gardens, school gardening programs and farmers markets in communities.

Not Possible Without Extension

Would these bountiful gardening successes be possible without Extension? These community leaders don't believe so.

 When asked how her community has utilized SDSU Extension in the creation of their community garden and farmers market, Wagner's Amy Boom says Extension has been an invaluable resource.

Lemmon's Marla Reede adds, "It has been incredibly helpful having SDSU Extension to get our community garden and farmers market projects started."

 She concludes, "I hope to see these projects continue to grow and to include more and more people from the area. I would also love to see our area youth take an interest in working with the community garden; it is such a rewarding hobby."

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