The plastic owl drooped from its perch on top of the chain-link fence surrounding the Moorcroft community garden. He’s fallen asleep on the job, Elaine Buckmiller noted, but in a few months, he’ll be back to his post when his shift begins for the summer. His job is to guard the grapevines from the birds, which last year, proved to be an effective deterrent.

Right now, the garden doesn’t look like much buried under thick shrouds of snow, but Elaine and friend Marge Reed already have big plans for the summer.

They’re part of a larger group of volunteers who call themselves the Garden Gnomes, because they prefer anonymity and would rather stay out of the limelight. This pair, who have been friends for as long as either can remember, believe in getting things done, so not surprisingly it was their idea to start a community garden.

Marge thought of it one day and convinced her friend to go along with it. Having grown up on a farm in rural North Dakota, she appreciated getting her hands dirty and growing their own food. She worries that these agricultural traditions aren’t being passed down to the younger generations, and increasingly, they’re losing touch with where their food comes from. 

The Garden Gnomes took the idea to the Moorcroft City Council, asking permission to co-opt the now-defunct playground behind the old elementary school, which has since been converted into the community center. The playground equipment had been torn down, with the exception of a spider-shaped jungle gym that, after a brainstorming session, the group decided would make a great gazebo.

“The land was just sitting there growing weeds,” Elaine said.

Initially, not all of the council members were on board with the idea, voicing concerns about cost and upkeep.

“Did we pay any attention?” Marge asked rhetorically. “Hell no. We said let’s just do it. It’s much easier to beg forgiveness, then ask for permission.”

They borrowed a boom truck, a tractor with a tiller and a skidsteer and got to work, and before they knew it, others were showing up to lend their equipment, donate wood and benches, hoses, manure, water wands, plants, flowers, and a whole lot of manpower.

“Everything just seemed to be there when needed,” Elaine said.

“We used and abused a whole lot of people,” Marge said with a laugh, firing off a long list of people and businesses who stepped in to help.

When all the supplies ran out, they had 15 4 x 8-foot wooden beds, and a couple smaller ones for children. Dozens of people came out that first season, including two of Marge’s young grandsons, who couldn’t get over the idea that cucumbers were pickles.

Now in its fourth year of production, the Town of Moorcroft has seen the benefits and is one of their strongest supporters, even donating water.  For $25, anyone can rent a garden bed, which includes the use of hoses and water. And unlike other community gardens where everyone picks produce and shares labor, the renter is responsible for upkeep and care of his or her bed and can plant whatever they want, including flowers.

“As long as it’s legal,” Marge said with a wink, “and pesticide-free.”

She’s particularly pleased to see so much interest from young people, including the 30-year-old man who asked for plants for his birthday in lieu of gifts. Along with being a great form of therapy, according to Marge, it’s also morphed into a bit of a competition.

Themes, too, have begun to emerge as one grower turned his two planters into a locomotive engine and a covered wagon, complete with red wheels, cloth canopy, and a tiny scarecrow cowboy in a Stetson pulling the reins. Others have American flag pinwheels, decorative neon plastic fish, and a pastel bird feeder planted six feet in the air.

Everyone seems to have their own theories about what makes the best fertile soil, according to Elaine.

“People get very opinionated,” Marge laughed, “and competitive.”

Elaine agreed, admitting that even she’s gotten carried away, particularly when it comes to buying gardening implements.

“Elaine has more shovels than God should allow,” Marge laughed.

But there’s something about digging your hands in the dirt, giving back and taking pride in your community, Marge pointed out, and she’d like to see that sentiment catch on and continue to grow.

Community Garden

It takes a village to keep a community garden growing. Although not a complete list, here are some supporters who help cultivate the garden, both literally and figurative:

Glenn Construction

Dan Grace

Casey Devish

Doug Leis

Ron & Linda Caylor

Flow Tech Fueling

Clay Okland Memorial

Sharon Millay Memorial

Toni Korneman

Justin Robinson

Ed & Carol Lee Sisson

Fischbach Construction

Troy Stewart

Tru & Tate Reed

Town of Moorcroft

Emily Griffith

Fred Devish

Willard Gantz

Parent Advisory Committee

Dick & Johnnie Faye Claar

Dorothy Baron

Nancy Feehan

Peggy Fraser 

By: Jen C. Kocher
Photos: Courtesy Marge Reed

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