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This Mitchell group is learning how to garden, and so can you. It can lead to financial savings, life lessons

Growing your own food builds character, can stretch food budget

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Ashley Anson, right, and Katie Buschbach examine the raised gardens being grown and maintained by youth in the Evening Reporting Center program in Mitchell. Youth learn how to grow their own vegetables and later use them in their own cooking. The gardening aspect of the program is a good way to teach life lessons, including responsibility and frugality. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a new weekly feature on how South Dakotans can save money. Do you have a craft, talent or interesting tip or trick to keep your wallet a little healthier? Contact us at the Mitchell Republic at dailynews@mitchellrepublic and you could be featured in a future story.

Neither Ashley Anson nor Katie Buschbach claim to be master gardeners.

But they are passing what they know about it to a group of youth at the Davison County North Office building on Main Street, where some small, raised garden plots sit in the sun, sporting sprouts of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, carrots, herbs and spices.

Anson, an attorney from Wessington Springs, and Buschbach, director for the Juvenile Diversion Alternative Initiative for Davison County, are coordinating a program in which youth who may have had run ins with the court system can take part in an activity that helps build character, responsibility and other skills while helping keep them from returning to the court system.

“Diversion is trying to keep those kids who aren’t typically in the court system from being involved in the court system,” Buschbach told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview. “These are kids who dipped their toe into the water and made a mistake, a poor choice. Instead of putting them into the system and running them through the court, we’re trying to educate them out of the system.”

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Saving money comes in several forms, including growing your own food. A program in Mitchell is showing youth how to do just that.

Anson, who was seeking ways to help wayward youth avoid the pitfalls of detention or court proceedings, approached Buschbach about working together to develop enrichment activities that could benefit youth who may be at risk. They are now doing that in the form of an Evening Reporting Center, a program that has been implemented across the nation, though often tailored for the needs of a specific community or demographic, and now help guide as many as four youth at a time in the art of growing their own food.

“The gardening came about from my own aspirations to do health and energy cooking with kids. The types of food we bring into our body has a lot to do with our mindset. I also do mindfulness, meditation, yoga and cognitive therapy with art through paintings. And cooking will be a part of all that,” Anson said.


“We both aren’t necessarily gardening experts, but we brought our knowledge together."

— Ashley Anson, Wessington Springs attorney and a coordinator for the Evening Reporting Center garden program


That meant the two had to combine their knowledge of gardening and pass it to their young charges. So they had to do some research.

“We both aren’t necessarily gardening experts, but we brought our knowledge together,” Anson said.

For a group of young people, many of whom did not even particularly like the outdoors or outdoor activities, Anson and Buschbach needed to take as simple a route as possible. They started by plotting a timeline. They acquired the plants and seeds through a donation from Menards and a grant helped with the materials for the raised beds and soil. The fresh soil came free of weed and other seeds, providing a good foundation for the produce they were growing.

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From there, they did what many do when brushing up on their skills: they took to the internet. They utilized a number of different tools and resources. The three raised boxes use a modified form of square-foot gardening, a technique that can grow a harvest using as little as 20% of the water normally used for growing. They also used the garden planning tool available from Old Farmer’s Almanac to come up with their planting layout to maximize yield and growing space.

Adding specific flowers to the vegetable bed also has its benefits. Particular species of flowers can be good for attracting beneficial predator insects that kill other pests that may feed on the young plants.

“With square-foot gardening, you can divide it out into square feet and do specific vegetables in one square foot and get a lot,” Anson said. “We also planted marigolds, petunias, gerbera daisies to attract good predator bugs to keep the bad ones out, and also to keep rabbits and stuff away. Those line the perimeter.”

The youth, who take part in the program confidentially, have taken up daily watering and general weeding chores, with someone visiting the plot every day to make sure the plants do not dry out in the hot summer South Dakota sun. They are beginning to take to the project, Anson said, and learning along with herself and Buschbach.

An important lesson to learn was pruning the flourishing plants. Though it seems counterintuitive to the inexperienced, trimming leaves, stems and other portions of the plant to limit its growth and balance the plant needs with the soil and water resources is important to healthy plants.

“One of our kids was in charge of watering for a week, and I came by and said we have to prune it out because if there are too many in a row they won’t grow correctly and we won’t get a lot of fruit,” Anson said. “And he asked, ‘We’re going to tear this up? They’re so big and green and they look amazing!’ And I said they’re going to compete for water and space. That was hard for them to destroy something they had created.”

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Ashley Anson, right, and Katie Buschbach examine the raised gardens being grown and maintained by youth in the Evening Reporting Center program in Mitchell. Youth learn how to grow their own vegetables and later use them in their own cooking. The gardening aspect of the program is a good way to teach life lessons, including responsibility and frugality. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

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Of course, they didn’t destroy the plots. Instead, the three raised boxes at the Davison County North Office complex are filled with a healthy variety of plants, fruits of the labor of the group, most of whom were helping manage their first garden.

Anson said there are a number of lessons for the youth through the garden.

“Responsibility. Caring for something outside of themselves. A lot of (the youth) are focused because they may be dealing with trauma or other issues in their lives which are energy-consuming,” Anson said. “This gives them time to think about the bigger picture, with a couple of them being almost 18 and looking at applying for college or getting their first job. It helps show them dedication, perseverance and sticking something out even though it seems tedious at first.”

It also teaches frugality and the benefits of growing your own food. Aside from the nutritional benefits of eating garden-grown produce, it can also provide a way to help take the edge off the weekly grocery bill.

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Ashley Anson, right, and Katie Buschbach examine the raised gardens being grown and maintained by youth in the Evening Reporting Center program in Mitchell. Youth learn how to grow their own vegetables and later use them in their own cooking. The gardening aspect of the program is a good way to teach life lessons, including responsibility and frugality. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

According to research by the United States Department of Agriculture , farm vegetable prices have dropped 17.3% on average from last year, when COVID-19 caused a price spike in many products, including food. But they are starting to rise in price again, with the price going up again by 6.4% from April to May of 2021. The USDA predicts prices should drop by 10% to 13% overall in 2021.

Having access to a self-perpetuating garden can wipe the fresh vegetable bill right off the budget. Vegetables can be canned or jarred for preservation into the winter months. In the fall, if the garden produces too much for a family to eat or save, they can be sold for a nominal price at farmers’ markets for a small boost in income.

Anson is working to open her own business that would specialize in diversion programs like the one she and Buschbach are spearheading right now, but that is down the road. For now, they plan to continue to harvest their crop in the fall, and then move on to the next phase: teaching them how to cook with their homegrown produce.

For anyone interested in growing their own food, they can look at the example set by the kids in the local Evening Reporting Center program. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but the rewards are worth the wait.

“I just like seeing how the plants have grown since the last time we were here. It’s been fun having the kids in charge of watering, and you can see how fast they grow, even if it seems tedious at the beginning” Anson said. “It’s similar to the diversion program. It seems like you’ll never get through the diversion program, and that seems daunting. But the next thing you know, you’re done.”

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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