Francis Vigo chapter NSDAR plants Sunshine Garden to share produce with community members
By Natalie Reidford
Inspired by the Victory Gardens of World War II, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution directed a new initiative to its members: plant a Sunshine Garden in one’s yard and donate the produce to those in need.
The Francis Vigo Chapter in Vincennes picked up the idea. While some members have planted their own personal Sunshine Gardens, the chapter took the initiative further and built a garden on the chapter grounds.
“We have two 3’ x 20’ beds,” said Haley Lancaster, Francis Vigo Chapter past regent and chapter advisor. The beds are planted with cherry tomatoes, mini sweet bell peppers, squash, carrots, beets, herbs, flowers and more.
Though the garden got a late start by local growing standards — the national initiative came about in May — the Francis Vigo chapter quickly planned and assembled the garden, with some help from members’ husbands, known as HODARs. HODARs provided soil, built tomato stakes and helped with bed construction.
A quick installation
“From conception to actual building was two-and-a-half weeks,” said Lindy Heath, who was recently installed as the new Francis Vigo Chapter regent. “Now the radishes and beans have come up, the squash is blossoming and the marigolds are in bloom.”
The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded in 1890, and the Vincennes chapter has been around since 1908.
“A lot of people who think of DAR, think of tea, pearls and white gloves,” said Lancaster. “Yes, sometimes we do those things, but DAR is actually a genealogical service organization.”
Lancaster explained that DAR’s three areas of focus are historic preservation, education and patriotism.
“Every national committee is aligned under these three pillars, with conservation being under education,” she said, adding that the Sunshine Garden project, as a spinoff of the Victory Garden, came about because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A service project
“Members were encouraged to do this as a project to stay home and stay safe, but also help people who can’t get to the stores because food pantries have just been ravaged,” Lancaster said.
Cathy Dever, Francis Vigo Chapter corresponding secretary and conservation chair, is a Master Gardener. Naturally, chapter members turned to her for guidance in planting the Sunshine Garden.
Dever was instrumental in designing the garden layout and collecting seeds from her own garden as well as seeds and plants from volunteers, donors and other members, said Heath.
“Because of our late start, supplies were already gone from the stores,” said Dever.
Though the garden got a late start by local growing standards — the national initiative came about in May — the Francis Vigo chapter quickly planned and assembled the garden.
Part of the plan all along was for Sunshine Gardens to grow food for those who need fresh produce.
“One thing we had in mind was the amount of (food) we could produce, and where it was going. Our elderly shut-in members and the food pantries are going to be the recipients of this project, so that it stays in the community,” said Heath.
“Many (members) are in the at-risk group and are not able to get out to the stores, or go to the farmers market for fresh produce right now,” added Dever.
In addition to providing for community members who are abiding by COVID-19 guidelines, the Sunshine Garden committee has kept garden workers’ safety at the forefront.
Dever has kept up with COVID-19 guidelines for community gardens through information published by Purdue Extension.
“I’ve been trying to advise them on following the new guidelines put out by Purdue Extension for safety,” said Dever.
That includes limiting the amount of members who are in the garden at one time.
All 174 members of the Francis Vigo chapter are welcome to visit and tend to the gardens, Dever said, but they need to talk to her first so they don’t have more than five people in the garden at one time.
Dever and Heath usually visit the garden each morning to check on the plants. Right now the chapter also has a daily watering group, a core group of members who tend to the garden. Later, as plants mature and produce grows, more members will be needed to harvest and distribute the food.
Keeping it organic
“We’re trying to follow organic guidelines,” said Dever. “So far, we haven’t run into any pest problems, but there are organic methods of control.”
Some organic pest control involves simply washing off the pests each morning, she added.
What are more organic than worms? The Sunshine Garden has its own worm connection: Heath’s husband, Chuck, raises worms and generously supplies the garden with worm castings.
Worm castings, for the unenlightened, are a highly-active biological mixture of bacteria, enzymes, remnants of plant matter and manure, and earthworm cocoons. Worm castings are full of minerals necessary for plant growth.
The Francis Vigo chapter is proud to have its Sunshine Garden located on its chapter grounds, the block which houses the William Henry Harrison mansion.
Many (members) are in the at-risk group and are not able to get out to the stores, or go to the farmers market for fresh produce right now.Cathy Dever
“As a national project, women were encouraged to (plant the gardens) in their homes; not many DAR chapters have property,” Lancaster said.
“By having (the garden) at the chapter house, it opens it up to people who aren’t able to have a garden where they live,” added Dever. “We are still encouraging members who can, to plant their own gardens also.”
Will the Sunshine Garden continue after the pandemic?
“It depends on how well it goes this year, how much participation we have,” said Heath. “I’d like to see it go at least two years.”
The chapter will need to find out if they produce enough food this year to donate as they planned, and see whether at-risk members will need the food next year if they are able to go out and shop.
“The beds are built for longevity,” Heath said, “but they can be easily dismantled and the soil distributed across the lawn and replanted as grass.”
Whether the Sunshine Garden is a one-year project or a permanent installation, the planning group was proud to show off the garden to fellow chapter members at the June 16 meeting.
“It was the first time our chapter met in person since February,” Lancaster said, adding that their chaplain blessed the garden at the June meeting.
“It also gave us a chance for members who heard us talking about the garden to see it in person.”