The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Old Hays Community Garden Wins Grant


August 25, 2021

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program, or SNAP-Ed program, awarded six Growing Together Montana mini grants this year to Master Gardeners across the state. One of those recipients was Hillary Maxwell and the Old Hays Community Garden on the Fort Belknap Reservation. These mini grants, worth up to $2,000, help to address food insecurity in Montana.

Growing Together Montana (GTMT) is a collaboration between the MSU Extension Nutrition Education Program and the Master Gardener program that provides grants to active Master Gardener volunteers with a focus on growing and donating produce to local food banks and supplying other emergency food resources. Master Gardeners also have the opportunity to work with SNAP-Ed instructors in their communities to deliver nutrition education to the individuals and families that utilize the food banks.

At the Old Hays Community Garden on the Fort Belknap Reservation, Master Gardeners created a new garden on a plot that was donated by the tribal council. According to organizers, this project has attracted many community volunteers who are first-time gardeners.

"Having fresh produce right in the neighborhood has been the greatest impact," said Maxwell, who is a Family Consumer Science Agent for MSU-Extension on Fort Belknap as well as a Master Gardener. "Community members are getting more comfortable with the garden space and are appreciating its value."

For providing leadership with the garden, Maxwell wishes to thank Colette Werk. The Hays Garden was also the location for community Bingo on August 12, and children play in the garden area frequently.

About her role, Werk commented, "I wouldn't say I'm the primary caregiver of the garden, but I do make sure it's watered and weeded a little bit. I have the help of the Extension Office intern Kayla Tandy, who takes care of it, too."

Throughout the summer, some young people from the Summer Youth Employment Program have also stepped in with assistance, not only with weeding but with mowing the grounds. Other community members have added their labor to the project, building a 50' x 30' fence around the garden to deter the wildlife from encroachment.

"The fence was built by community members Olie and Sharlo Doney with assistance from Colton Werk and me. It's just a wire fence with set posts and a gate. At the moment, we don't have a water source,

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Old Hays Garden

so we got a hose from the nearest house, which is generously offered up by Dutch Helgeson, so he will be getting some veggies out of the garden for sure; very thankful for it. I just really want the community to have the credit. This garden is for them, and I want them to know that. Sure proud of our little community," Werk explained.

The garden features several raised beds, which are growing tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, peppers, potatoes, radishes, squash, and cilantro/herbs. Adding to the food forest on the grounds are bee balm, rhubarb, spearmint, echinacea, and an apple tree.

"This project was actually headed up by Hillary Maxwell. She just included me on it because I am part of the Old Hays community and I thought it would be a great opportunity for our little community to get some food sovereignty going. It was a bit of a challenge just getting things started with the fence, but the garden has been looking great and things are growing. Our cabbage took a toll from the grasshoppers and beetles, but we're hoping to fix that next year," Werk stated.

Werk went on to explain that the fence is doing its job, as no animals have invaded the garden, and the children who play there always close the gate. "It's great to see them respect the garden and know that this is for them and their families. I told them if they ever need anything, to just go right in and make sure to close the gate behind them. It's nice to see everything grow, and we look forward to what we can continue to do next year. Hopefully, we can develop an apple orchard like the Lodgepole community has or continue to make the garden bigger with maybe a plowed area plot. None of this would have been possible without MSU-Extension and Hillary Maxwell's help; so very thankful for that."

Produce from the garden will be distributed to local organizations that serve families with limited resources. Recipients also receive invitations for free in-person and virtual nutrition education classes taught by MSU-Extension nutrition educators.

One of those classes is a Food Preservation and Canning Workshop to preserve garden produce. Sponsored by MSU-Extension at Fort Belknap, this training will be a series beginning August 30. With locations still to be determined, Maxwell shared that she will be in Lodgepole on Mondays, in Hays on Wednesdays, and at the Agency on Thursdays. Jars will be provided for those attending. Anyone with questions is encouraged to call Maxwell at 390-1085.

Other 2021 projects that received GTMT grants are Sixth Ward Garden Park in Helena, Northern Cheyenne Reservation Donation Garden at Busby, Helping Hands Food Bank Garden in Hardin, Sagebrush Food Pantry Garden in Shelby, and Fort Peck Reservation Donation Garden at Poplar.

For more information on the GTMT program or to apply for a grant for the 2022 garden season, interested individuals can visit the GTMT website or contact Project Coordinator, Lydia Sakowski by emailing or calling 406-994-6022.


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