(Mahnomen, Minn.) – To support a growing community garden program, White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC) accepted a tractor and tiller donation from R.D. Offutt Farms (RDO).
WETCC Extension Educator, Bob Shimek, said the community garden program has grown over the years from helping a few families on White Earth Nation to serving more than 35 multi-generational families.
Shimek and a team from WETCC create or prepare family garden plots by tilling the land and providing seeds and starter plants. They also provide support during the growing season.
“The goal of the program is to encourage White Earth members to eat nutritious, locally grown food,” Shimek said. “Family gardens are planted with a variety of vegetables and fruits, including carrots, beets, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and more.”
While the program spans the entirety of the White Earth Nation, there’s concentrated gardens in the Pine Point and Rice Lake areas. The WETCC Extension team also plants gardens on campus and donates food grown to White Earth citizens or for use at the College. Last year, when grocery store aisles were empty due to COVID-19, WETCC Extension donated more than 3,000 pounds of food to the community and the Elderly Nutrition Program.
Shimek said there are many partnerships in place to make this program a success.
“The University of Minnesota-Crookston grows our seeds in a greenhouse during the winter,” Shimek said. “And this year, local businesses will help distribute approximately 5,200 seed packets and 3,000 starter plants to community members.”
Keith McGovern, RDO Farms President, said the community garden program aligns well with RDO’s mission.
“As farmers, we appreciate everyone’s efforts to ensure a safe and sustainable food supply,” McGovern said. “We’ve been neighbors with the White Earth Nation for decades and we are proud to support this program.”
The tractor is a 2019 John Deere 3033R with a front loader and a new John Deere 665 Rotary Tiller. It is equipped with a hydro transmission, mechanical front wheel drive and 33-horsepower engine.
Prior to the donation, Shimek used his personal, older tractor or the WETCC Extension team manually prepared each garden.
“The donation of the tractor is a huge cornerstone for nutrition security on the Reservation,” Shimek said. “The benefits will be felt in many ways throughout White Earth Nation.”
Lisa Brunner, Director of WETCC’s Community Extension Services Department, said, “White Earth Ojibwe Nation is a federally designated food desert, and the generous donation of a much-needed tractor and tiller from RDO Farms will have a direct impact in supporting our work with the community to till their gardens.”
Brunner went on to credit Shimek for developing a relationship with RDO Farms over 20 years, during which time he experienced the company implementing sustainable farming practices to create a more ecologically responsible agricultural practice.
“Bob shared it is important to recognize that RDO Farms has made advances in technology, including using less water and pesticides, planting cover crops on early harvest fields, extending the average crop rotation to four years and probably planting more pollinator habitat than any agricultural entity in the state,” Brunner said. “It is through good relationship building that we will graciously accept this donation and continue to move forward in a good way to be good relatives to each other and Mother Earth.”