Community garden demonstrates another successful growing season in Santee

As another growing season comes to a close, residents of the small Native community of Santee are prepared to continue utilizing the knowledge they’ve gained over the summer.

Through assistance from the Center for Rural Affairs and the Nebraska Indian Community College, the town has been a home to a community garden for members of the Santee Sioux Nation for the last few years.

Each summer, residents are provided with space and an opportunity to grow their own vegetables and learn different ways to prepare them. Center staff give presentations on planting techniques and help gardeners explore troubleshooting issues in the community garden.

Lizzie Swalley, community foods associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, said the garden is used in the most effective ways each season.

“The garden has had many uses over the years, and this year we have mostly used it as a demonstration garden,” she said. “We teach people different ways to use the produce, so they can take that information home to use with the vegetables grown within their own gardens.”

Throughout town, most backyard gardeners plant basic salsa ingredients such as tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalapenos, and occasionally a few cucumbers and pumpkins. Many of the same vegetables are grown in the community garden, with the addition of zucchini, squash, eggplant, green beans, and sweet potatoes.

At roughly 25 yards by 20 yards, the community garden offers plenty of space for all of these crops, so there is much to offer the residents who rely on the garden.

“The community garden can be picked by anyone,” said Lizzie. “We also prefer to use the vegetables from this garden for demonstration purposes, as we don’t always have a surplus of one particular vegetable.”

This year, Center staff gave a presentation on baking green beans, as well as how to freeze them for future use. Another event centered on turning cucumbers into refrigerated pickles.

“One of the biggest things that we focus on is helping the community change their eating habits,” said Lizzie. “Community members aren't always familiar with how to cook a certain food when it’s freshly picked from a garden—squash, for example. We had a food demonstration on how to prepare squash as a meal, with recipes, and community taste testing.”

According to Lizzie, Santee residents feel they’ve benefited from these demonstrations, and that the Center has been very helpful with reintroducing garden projects into the community.

“More people are interested in planting their own gardens and trying new vegetables for the first time, like indigo potatoes,” she said. “Community members would like to try to grow their own squash and sweet potatoes in their personal gardens, too.”

Lizzie says while the process has been slow going, she still sees progress, and expects growth in the coming years.

“We hope to eventually have enough to harvest from the garden to give vegetables to the elders,” she said. “Produce will hopefully go to the farmer's markets within the coming years, as well.”