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4-H’ers create 19th century garden

By Staff | Jul 9, 2015

-Farm News photos by Barbara Wallace Hughes OLIVIA?MITCHELL, at left, Caryn Dawson, center, and Brooklin Border weed the Soldier Garden at the Fort Museum in Fort Dodge. The 4-H’ers researched appropriate plants for a traditional garden from the mid-19th century and have been tending their plot throughout the summer.

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FORT DODGE – Their plot is called the Soldier Garden, but its caretakers are 4-H’ers, not members of the military.

At the Fort Museum in Fort Dodge, the garden features plants – including corn, beans, squash, potatoes and herbs – that would likely have been grown at the time of the original Fort’s mid-19th century operation.

The garden’s creators and caretakers represent three 4-H clubs – a trio of students at three area high schools who brought varying degrees of experience in gardening. But, their work with the garden, the three said, has boosted their interest in gardening, food preservation and even basket making.

Caryn Dawson, a member of the CC Sidekicks, attends Manson Northwest Webster High School and was unacquainted with the other two. Brooklin Border, a member of the Douglas Dreamers and a student at St. Edmond High School, and Washington Winners member and Fort Dodge Senior High student Olivia Mitchell, were already friends.

The Soldier Garden at the Fort Museum in Fort Dodge, is tended by, from left, Olivia Mitchell, Caryn Dawson and Brooklin Border. The garden is a joint project of 4-H and the ISU Master Gardeners.

Dawson, who works at Earl May, said “gardening has always been a part of my life,” while the other two have family members who garden, but had less personal experience tending produce.

Since they began working on the Soldier Garden this spring, “we’ve become pretty close,” Mitchell said.

With the help of 4-H Hall of Fame member John Bonner, the gardeners researched and selected the appropriate seeds and plants in the spring, planted those seeds and are spending time this summer tending their crops.

With Bonner’s continued mentoring, Dawson said, “we’re learning a lot from him,” including helpful gardening tips that are new to her.

Their educational 4-H presentation on June 27 earned a State Fair ribbon, as the three portrayed personifications of Corn, Beans and Squash – the plants Native Americans used in a traditional three sisters garden.

Interplanted, cornstalks function as a trellis for the beans, which return nitrogen to the soil, while the squash provides shade to retain soil moisture.

Much like the namesake three sisters, “we worked together well,” Mitchell said, “and our introduction was great.”

“We gave out canned items, Indian corn and brochures,” said Border, adding that they also offered to give tours of the garden.

During the presentation, they wore prairie-style dresses and aprons, along with wide-brimmed hats or a bonnet.

Their outfits were provided by John Bonner’s wife, Sandee Bonner, another 4-H Hall of Fame member.

Mitchell wrote an application for a $200 DuPont Pioneer Seed Grant to get the project off the ground. The Iowa 4-H Foundation then chose the Soldier Garden as one of 15 Iowa 4-H projects to receive money.

In addition, each of the girls donated some money themselves, and all are spending time this summer caring for garden, occasionally up to six hours a day.

The friends are planning to donate produce from the garden to Fort Dodge charities, including the Beacon of Hope men’s shelter, the Lord’s Cupboard food pantry and The Salvation Army.

They are also toying with the idea of learning how to pickle some of the vegetables they’re growing, and when the willow tree cuttings in the adjacent bed are large enough to harvest, they want to try their hand at basket making.

“The experience,” said Dawson, “has been pretty amazing.”

All said they want the garden to continue past this year.

“We’re trying to get more people involved,” said Mitchell.

“And maybe make it bigger,” said Border.

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