Appleton's new community garden offers a healthy response to problem of food insecurity

Food insecurity is one of those silent things that is not always addressed, especially in small, rural communities. Volunteers in Appleton planted a community garden as a step toward addressing it, as well as to encourage healthy eating practices by everyone

Volunteers Warren Rau, left, Andrea Johnson and Kathy Tweten plant one of the fruit trees that are part of Appleton's new community garden. The volunteers started the garden and orchard June 12 on land adjacent to the Zion Lutheran Church. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

APPLETON — In her work as a mental health therapist with the Appleton Area Health Services, Kelsey Tollefson sees it firsthand: Food insecurity and hunger are daily realities for many of the people she helps.

“I see hunger as one of those silent things that isn’t always addressed, especially in our small towns,” said Tollefson.

It’s one of the reasons why she and about two dozen volunteers gathered earlier this month on a grassy lot next to the Zion Lutheran Church in Appleton. They planted apple, plum and pear trees, along with raspberry bushes. They will return later this summer to plant honeyberry, rhubarb, asparagus, and grapes in what is now a community garden.


The fresh foods will be there for the taking. “You just come and pick. Anyone is welcome,” Tollefson said.

There are two main goals for the community garden, according to Tollefson. Along with helping provide food for those in need, it will also provide healthy, fresh foods. It’s a way to encourage healthy eating, she said.

The garden is a joint venture between Appleton Area Health Services and Zion Lutheran Church.

“I loved the idea,” said the Rev. Roger Fears, pastor of the church, as he joined the volunteers planting on June 12.

Fears said the church has long discussed what to do with the empty lot that is now the community garden. When parishioner Tollefson inquired about its use, he said images of the Garden of Eden and the whole idea of regrowth and making things new again came to his mind.

The church serves as a satellite location for the Swift County Food Shelf operated by the Prairie Five Community Action Council. Based on what he’s seen at the food shelf, Fears said he agrees with Tollefson: “There’s a lot more food insecurity than we know,” he said.

Food shelf usage has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Upper Minnesota River Valley counties served by Prairie Five, according to Angela Nissen, who oversees the effort for the agency. The counties are Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine.

The Prairie Five food shelf in Benson serves much of Swift County, including many people from Appleton. It helps an average of 150 households a month, she said.


In addition, Prairie Five has been pioneering the use of a specially equipped truck able to deliver refrigerated meals to the homes of senior citizens in rural locations. There are many seniors in rural homes who have a difficult time finding transportation to reach meal sites, but now benefit from meals delivered to their doors.

Nissen said the truck delivering meals has been very busy. So busy, Prairie Five has recently obtained grant funds to add a second delivery truck.

Pastor Fears said he suspects not everyone who needs the help provided by a food shelf receives it. People in Appleton are proud, and that’s especially true for many of the elderly, he said. He believes that keeps some from coming to the food shelf.

Yet the need in Appleton is likely greater than in many other communities in the region. The average annual household income in the community is $33,233, or well below the $43,846 county average, according to information from the Upper Minnesota Regional Development Commission.

Tollefson said the idea for the community garden came from Montevideo, where CCM Health planted one last year.

Jessica Stettner, who organized the CCM project, said the community garden is catching on with people who come to pick (and enjoy) the fresh berries and produce. She likes the fact that she sees lots of people from the neighborhood, many of them seniors, getting out and walking and enjoying the fresh air as they come to pick a treat in the garden.

Stettner said she hopes the garden encourages more people to put in their own gardens as well. Tending a garden is a healthy activity, both for physical and mental health, she said.

Tollefson said Appleton Area Health Services was able to obtain funding from Countryside Public Health and the Statewide Health Improvement Program to make the community garden possible.


She said she was especially pleased to see all the helping hands who came to help plant it on a windy and sun-splashed summer afternoon.

“What better way to make an investment and help people for years to come,” said Tollefson of the garden.

What To Read Next
Get Local