Vacant greenhouse provides seedlings for Santee

Farm and Food
Small Towns

An unused greenhouse and students looking for a service project lined up for a great opportunity.

Last spring, Diane Smith, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Mount Marty University, was weighing her options. Usually she leads her students through community health service projects and for the previous two years the students had worked alongside the Santee Health Wellness Center in Santee, Nebraska. But due to COVID and Tribal health restrictions, she was looking for a new project. 

She connected with Kristine Flyinghawk and Lizzie Swalley with the Center for Rural Affairs and asked what her 26 students could do to help the community. They asked if the students would be willing to do starter plant maintenance.

“I all of a sudden went, ‘Wow, we have a greenhouse at Mount Marty that isn’t used,’” Diane said.

She reached out to science department staff who used the greenhouse in the past, and they agreed to open up the facility.

“We spent some time getting it ready, and then within that, we had to make a plan,” Diane said.

The Center for Rural Affairs, through its funding partners, provided the seeds, starter kits, and soil, and delivered those to Yankton on Feb. 26. One evening, Kristine virtually taught the students what to do with the plants.

The students then started the seedlings, which included 260 Big Boy and cherry tomato plants, 260 jalapenos, and 260 bell peppers. Each student was solely responsible for one flat.

“A packet of seeds makes a big difference in the Santee community and creates an opportunity for our students to learn,” Diane said.

The timing was perfect.

“In the Midwest, planting season for gardens is sometimes not until the end of May, because it’s too cold or even snow on the ground,” Diane said. “This worked out.”

The students rotated maintenance duties, including watering. Throughout the process, the students took selfies that Diane sent to Kristine, who shared them with families who were going to take ownership of the plants.

Student Hannah Harberts was in charge of scheduling her peers to water the plants.

“I’ve had a garden before, but knowing I was not planting these for myself, I was more worried about the plants being alive at the end of it,” she said.

Then, the last week of Mount Marty’s school year, which was the middle of May, Kristine and Lizzie picked up the plants and took them back to Santee. A total of 2,600 plants made their way to the community.

“It’s been a wonderful collaboration and relationship, and I think it’s a great opportunity to continue in the future,” Diane said. “It was really fun, it was thinking out of the box. This was a way for the students to connect with the community when we couldn’t connect in person because of COVID.”

The project wasn’t just about learning how to start seedlings.

“This was a good opportunity and collaboration in community service,” Diane said. “Students learned about the Native American communities and disparities in a community not too far from them.”

Student Joey Stibrow said he enjoyed serving the community.

“This class was a very cool experience because we learned a whole lot about the culture of the Lakota people and the different ways they do medicine and interact with each other,” he said. “That was awesome.”

With the help of the students, Santee community members had a successful growing season.

“We provided pre-started plants for almost 50 families and our community garden,” said Kristine. “Throughout the summer, they grew their very own fresh, healthy tomatoes and peppers in their backyards, thanks to this partnership.”

Feature photos: Mount Marty University students carry starter plant seedlings from their greenhouse in Yankton to Kristine Flyinghawk, of the Center for Rural Affairs, last May. Kristine and Lizzie Swalley then delivered the plants to families in Santee.  |  Photos by Rhea Landholm