First COVID-19, then a drought: Pine River-Backus Community Garden needs help recovering


“A lot of people didn’t want to congregate,” said Simon Whitehead, Cass County’s State Health Initiative Partnership educator. “We even had trouble getting meetings together to plan the garden.”

Now, a year later, the community garden has had to refund garden rental fees in part because of the extreme drought, as well as loss of water because of the construction of the nearby football field’s new bathrooms and concessions stand.

“We have a drought,” Whitehead said. “And then I think some time in the beginning of May the water got cut off because they were working on the football field.”

Particularly dedicated individuals persevered by watering their plots a bucket at a time.

“I think a couple people decided to go out and bring their own water to the garden and stuff like that,” Whitehead said. “But it’s pretty bad right now. It’s yellow with weeds everywhere.”

Now, Whitehead hopes the garden can get back on track with a little help. Volunteers have already begun to gather to help re-envision the garden space and eventually to clean it up for winter. Two master gardeners are helping to make plans.

“We’ve got big plans for the garden,” Whitehead said. “They want to do some things like an orchard, a mushroom area, a shady part and maybe a hidden garden for the kids.”

Big plans are in the works, including soil amendment, a new weed proofing trick, installation of several hose connections for easier watering and a compost heap for constant rejuvenation of the garden soil.

However, the project is going to take more people than are currently available. Of course, they are also looking for people who might want to rent a plot when updates are complete.

“We’re looking for people who have gardens and like to garden and anyone who would like to just help out,” Whitehead said. “It just needs a lot of work right now and it can’t just be two or three people. We’d like a crowd of people who can get the whole thing done in one or two nights.”

Cass County has helped with funding in the past, granting funds for top soil and fence posts among other items, and Whitehead thinks there will be some funding available again. He also hopes to tap into more funding sources.

In other communities, he said, American Legions, VFWs and Lions clubs often provide ongoing financial help to community gardens.

“I know the Lions in the Remer garden gave $3,000 and they give them $500 a month to just support the garden,” Whitehead said.

In addition to funding, the garden could use an abundance of cardboard for weed proofing.

Meeting dates

  • There will be a planning meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, at the garden. Those interested in helping may contact Simon Whitehead at 218-547-6843 or the Pine River-Backus Community Education office at 218-838-1476.
  • There will be a Garden Makeover Day from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at the garden site.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

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