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The Scarlet & Black

Seeland Park retirees harvest lush produce

Seeland Park
- Alec Maliwanag

Iowa farmers are highly regarded for their work ethic, but today that fame is beginning to dwindle. With the next generation selling family land as soon as their parents are unable to continue, many farmers are faced with the reality that they have little to do in their retirement—but not at Seeland Park Retirement Community.

The Seeland Park Community Garden is a half acre of garden space where anyone in the community can come to lay down seeds, tend the earth and harvest delicious produce at the end of the season. The gardens were put in after several residents banded together and said they would like to start growing a garden again, according to Dion Schrack, Executive Administrator of Seeland Park.

“Almost all of the residents here are from rural backgrounds,” Schrack said. “They really came forth with a passionate request to dig up some of the back lawn and start doing what they’ve been doing for most of their lives—gardening.”

Today an overwhelming number of Iowa’s farmers are put away in nursing homes when they can no longer physically put in the time and energy necessary to plant fields, harvest grain or feed cattle. Often the land that they once belonged to—the land that sustained them and gave them a sense of purpose—is sold off by the next generation. However, for these farmers who must leave their land, their home gardens and often their sense of purpose, Seeland Park Community Garden offers the residents a chance to produce great vegetables right in their back yards.

“The first gardens were put in right before I arrived about seven and a half years ago,” said Don Milburn, a resident at Seeland Park who works in the community garden. “But for the past two years I’ve been the primary coordinator of the project.”

Every spring Milburn hires a local machinery operator to plow the half acre of former lawn. After the discs have broken up the clumps of soil hardened from the winter, Milburn sets out a list for anyone who may want a plot on which to grow their own vegetables. After staking out the area, residents who have signed up for a plot in the garden are allowed to plant a crop of their choosing. There are currently 15 participants who each have their own plot to tend to.

“This year I had a little extra room, so I planted tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, beans, beats, musk melons, water melons, sweet potatoes, peppers, squash and peas. “ Milburn said.

Of the 240 residents at Seeland Park, almost all of them spent much of their life tilling fields, pulling weeds and eating food grown right outside of their windows. After many moved to Seeland Park, they consider the vegetable garden to be a wonderful place to keep busy doing the work that they love.

Residents now have the opportunity to go out in the nice weather and pull the dirt into neat rows with a hoe. They get to choose all of the vegetables that they plan on growing over the next six months. They also get to eat tomatoes that are sweet and ripe, corn that tastes like it actually came from the earth and every other imaginable garden crop that can be grown under the Iowa sun.

“In the fall, when our freezer is full and we’ve eaten all that we can, we give the rest of our vegetables to other residents who aren’t physically able to get down on the ground and pull weeds,” said Joan Milburn, another resident at Seeland Park. “One of the lady gardeners here is 95 years old. Every year around harvest time she takes out her basket, fills it with tomatoes and goes door to door asking the more debilitated residents, ‘Would you like some tomatoes? I just plucked them from my garden!’”

Milburn explained that while the work that goes along with owning your own home is tiresome and he never cared for shoveling snow at six in the morning, the daily routine that went into taking care of something provides a sense of worth.

“I miss my home terribly, but the garden helps,” Milburn said. “I grew up on a farm, and, well, today this is my farm.”

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