Community gardens cater to green thumbs of all ages

Julia DeCook

Many people have fond memories of their parents or even grandparents having gardens. This could be because many people who garden are older, and thus have the time and space to devote to a garden. Yet there is also the charm of the gardener. Oftentimes, gardeners are not identifiable. They are a silent subculture with an age range that surpasses generations and stereotypes.

The community gardens in Brookings provide students and community members alike the opportunity to hone their green thumbs and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

“We don’t track this but anecdotally I would say the gardens are particularly popular with the international students at SDSU, but we see all ages, ethnicities, economic classes of people renting these plots,” said Peter Colson, director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Brookings.

Luyen “Sam” Phan is a senior global studies major at SDSU. Phan was born in Vietnam and moved to the Sioux Falls area when he was two years old.

“My mother always had a garden when I was growing up, so naturally I picked it up as well,” Phan said.

When asked why he started gardening, apart from the exposure he had to it growing up, Phan said, “People are so disconnected from their food these days, so I see gardening as an easy way to become more connected with yourself. It feels nice to consume something you put your own sweat into.”

But Phan is not alone in his endeavor.  He is oftentimes accompanied in his garden by his housemates, who worked a garden plot together last year. Recently, Phan also took over a plot left by one of his friends.

Growing typical garden vegetables like beets, corn, peppers and tomatoes, plus some not-so-typical Vietnamese herbs, Phan masters his gardening skill in Brookings. But he also helps out with his family’s garden in Sioux Falls as well.

“The community garden is a good option for students around this area,” Phan said. “It’s not too far from campus and the plots are cheap for the area you get, plus they have hookups for your hose as well. After college I hope I have time and space to garden.”

Phan not only enjoys gardening, but also making meals with the plants he grows, spending time with friends and other simple pleasures.

Nearly all SDSU students are aware of the McCrory Gardens, a beautiful, sprawling testimony to ornamental plants. But the Community Gardens are a mystery to most. For college students who don’t have the space to garden, the Community Gardens are a great and viable option.

The gardens are named after Douglas Chittick, a former professor of the Rural Sociology department at SDSU, where he served for 41 years. A long-time member of the Parks and Recreation Board, Chittick was instrumental in setting up the Community Gardens project.

The Brookings Community Garden has plots available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Although returning gardeners may reserve their plots in advance, the 550 plots available can be used for annual and perennial planting.

“We have space for about 550 garden plots and have had years where we have had all of them rented,” said Colson. “This year we had approximately 430 rented.

“We have taken some gardens out of production because we have had some flooding issues in 2010 and 2011 with the creek that runs between the garden sections. These flooding events have probably contributed to the decline we have seen in the number of gardeners.”

Each plot measures 20 feet by 25 feet, and is rented for $25.00 per season. “Many of the gardeners have been with us for years,” Colson said. “We charge $25 per plot and this includes staking the plots, the tilling in the spring and fall, fertilizing in the spring and all the water you want to use on the garden.”

When asked if there were any plans to expand the community gardens, Colson said there are now no plans to expand the current space.

Students like Sam Phan and other Brookings residents will be able to use the gardens for years to come, and although the growing season is coming to an end, the joys of gardening will continue.