History and Practices

Hillside Prairie Gardens has existed in different capacities for many years, including Farmers Markets, U-picks, and the neighborly trading of goods.  In the early 1970s, Steve and Mary Kay Helling, in search of an alternative, more sustainable lifestyle, purchased a five-acre plot eight miles outside of the  college town of Brookings, SD.  During that time the ambitious couple worked the land and built a house there, later adding a barn, workshop, and greenhouse, all while raising four children.  Each year the kids helped to plant and tend a large, diverse garden, learning at first hand just how food comes to the table – an invaluable lesson too often lost on today’s younger generation.

Now nearly 40 years later, our gardens rest on this same hillside and on the same genuine principles of dealing locally, acting sustainably, and taking care of ourselves and the land.  Our produce comes to you at its freshest, organically certified and free of chemicals, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers of any kind.  

We are USDA Organic certified by MOSA.  All of the produce grown on our farm is done so without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals.  We are very conscious of how we treat our soil, as it is what sustains our farm.  We are fortunate and happy to be able to utilize manure from a neighboring sheep operation (Thanks Ron).  Manure is a fantastic soil amendment, but too much could eventually create problems; therefore it is only one of many ways we keep our soil alive and well.  Compost and cover crops are equally important in helping us replenish our soil.  Generally we lean toward legume cover crops like hairy vetch and different clovers due to their nitrogen fixing properties.  Having healthly, well-structured soil is the most important part of any farm. 

Well-balanced soil is our first defense against pests and diseases, but some years they are inevitable even in the best kept soils.  By rotating crops, using thick mulches and row covers, and starting all our own transplants we can deter many problems before they become unmanageable.  A healthy plant begins life as a healthy transplant.  We start all our own transplants because we can have complete control over the entire life of the plant.  All seeds are either directly sown in the field or started in our greenhouse to be transplanted out later.  We grow 35 different vegetables and fruit and specialize in garlic, tomatoes and raspberries.

An important aspect of the farm are the trees that surround it. Our shelterbelt  protects our young crops and high tunnels from the strong prairie winds.  And although we are surrounded by corn and soybeans, native plants and a multitude of creatures dwell within the the protection and nourishment of the trees.  We have only5 acres of land, but over half of it is set aside to help create a sustainable environment for other life.  Without it the farm wouldn't feel nearly as alive.

We believe in the spirit of organic.  We adhere to organic requirements and use very few of the the available pesticides approved for organic use. 

The farm has at times been a CSA, sold to local restaurants, and been ever present at the Brookings Farmers Market.




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