Madison Commons Virtual Garden Show: Sheboygan Community Garden houses organic produce, diverse membership

This is part of a continuing series of snapshots of some of Madison’s  community gardens, a “virtual garden show.” For more, click here.

Shelya BodnikevichShelya BodnikevichFor the crowds of people that visit Hilldale Shopping Center each day, the majority of shoppers might be unaware of the treasure hidden only a few blocks away on Sheboygan Avenue. The Sheboygan Community Garden, established in 1981, is education-oriented, and the crops and plants grown in the garden reflect the diversity of its membership.

Two members, Nikolay and Shelya Bodnikevich, came to the United States around 70 years ago from Odessa, Ukraine. Nikolay and Shelya have had a plot in the Sheboygan Community Garden since 1996. They walk from the West Madison Senior Center everyday to check on their 400 square foot plot. Nikolay spoke proudly of the tomatoes and strawberries that they grow in the spring.

Sheboygan Garden Coordinator Cindy Statz can attest to the Bodnikevich’s success.

“They have wonderful tomatoes, and they have tomatoes brought from the old country,” said Statz.

A 200 square foot plot owner herself, Cindy Statz chose the Sheboygan Garden over the many other community gardens in the Madison area. She works on campus for UW-Madison.

“I can pedal past my garden plot on the way home [from work] and pick some vegetables,” said Statz.

Affiliated with the Community Action Coalition (CAC), the Sheboygan Community Garden shares their mission to help families, as well as garden aficionados, become more self-sustaining by providing low-cost, organic garden space.

“It is so much better to know that when you step onto the grounds it is an organic garden,” said Statz. “You know what kind of environment you are in.”

Educational sessions are provided each month to teach gardening techniques. The sessions depend on the time of year and skill level in the garden, but past sessions included growing garlic and insect protection for plants. All skill levels, and even students, are welcome.

“We have over 100 families in our garden,” said Statz. “We want to be as inclusive as possible.”

All gardeners used to have 400 square foot plots, but now the Sheboygan Community Garden has divided the plots into 100 and 200 square foot plots as well, to accommodate more people.

Registration fees, which are determined by CAC, are established from a sliding scale based on household income. The price ranges from $5  to $65 for a year.

Statz said that the garden gives back ten percent of the registration fees to CAC so they can create more community gardens. The rest of the fees go towards community garden supplies, such as a storage shed that the Sheboygan Community Garden purchased from the Madison College carpentry program last year.

Planning for the next season begins in January when the Garden Steering Committee decides which gardeners will be allowed back and which prospective gardeners will be able to receive a garden plot.

“We generally have a waiting list of about 50 people,” said Statz.

Unfortunately for those on the waiting list, there is no limit to how long an individual can be in possession of a plot. This contributes to the deep sense of community present in the Sheboygan Community Garden.

The only requirement is that the gardeners remain in good standing: they must follow the rules outlined in the garden’s handbook and meet the annual four hour community work requirement.

“One Saturday morning a month we have our workday,” Statz said. “There is always something going on in the garden so we ask that they participate in that way.”

Maintenance activities include spreading wood chips in the aisles between plots and weeding. Planting an herb garden and shrubs are possible future projects for the Sheboygan Garden.

Enhancing the feeling of family and community already evident in this garden, potlucks and other social events bring the Sheboygan Garden members together outside of the garden.

"Our garden is open to the public. Come by. Walk through. Enjoy the view, and talk to people,” said Statz. “There is such a mix of people you can really see the character and the humanity of all those groups... It’s a delight.”

Sheboygan Community Garden in late autumnSheboygan Community Garden in late autumn