85-year-old keeps feeding the community through a 10-acre garden

Carl Madsen has been gardening nearly his whole life, and now he uses his passion to support the local food pantry.

Carl Madsen and the Bachar sibblings plant peppers in his produce garden in Brookings, S.D.
Ariana Schumacher /Agweek

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Carl Madsen of Brookings, South Dakota, has a life-long passion for gardening, something he’s continued to do well throughout retirement.

He’s turned his hobby into a mission to donate thousands of pounds of food to the local Feeding Brookings food pantry.

Carl Madsen during planting in his garden.
Ariana Schumacher/Agweek
LISTEN: Hear it from Carl Madsen himself
Wed May 24 05:30:00 EDT 2023
Carl Madsen has been gardening nearly his whole life, and now he uses his passion to support the local food pantry. Agweek reporter Ariana Schumacher talks to Madsen during planting at his Brookings, South Dakota, plot, which some young people from the community help him accomplish.

“I have been gardening to my recollection since I was 5 years old, that was 80 years ago,” Madsen said.

Madsen may be 85 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from planting this 10-acre produce garden, all to keep people in need well fed.

“They seem to like the fresh produce, they don’t have refrigeration to help them out, so we pick it and bring it in fresh, everyone wins on that one,” Madsen said.


Aly Bachar plants peppers at Madsen Gardens.
Ariana Schumacher /Agweek

Every year, Madsen donates a couple tons of potatoes, at least 1 ton of squash, along with a variety of other vegetables.

“They take whatever I want, they don’t complain if ‘oh no we don’t want tomatoes.’ They don’t do that. If I bring tomatoes that’s what they’ve got. If I bring potatoes, that’s what they got. So they make it easy for me and it goes to people in need,” Madsen said.

A box of peppers is ready to be planted at Madsen Gardens.
Ariana Schumacher/ Agweek

But it’s not something he could do alone.

“I’ve got my neighbor girls here,” Madsen said. “People help me. For example, Farmhouse Fraternity guys come out and plant stuff for me and I work with Norms Greenhouse and Nursery out of Aurora, and they do some greenhouse work for me.”

Zach Bachar enjoys helping out during planting at Madsen Gardens.
Ariana Schumacher /Agweek

“We’ve been drilling the holes and grabbing the peppers and putting the water in the holes and then putting the peppers in there and burying them. And then we got the tomatoes and are doing the same thing,” said 11-year-old Aly Bachar, who helps in the garden.

Carl Madsen shows the kids how to separate the plants.
Ariana Schumacher /Agweek

Not only are they helping a good cause, but they are learning how to garden.

“I’ve learned how to plant a lot of different plants, and like what to do and what not to do,” Aly Bachar said. “I like the fresh air and getting my hands dirty, and I just like helping Carl.”

And for Madsen, the garden is a way to stay active and healthy.


“Every doctor I’ve got tells me 'keep moving, exercise, don’t get fat and just keep moving,'” Madsen said. “And I like to do this, and I like to play with tractors.”

Faith Bachar plants in Madsen Gardens.
Ariana Schumacher /Agweek

He encourages others who are interested to start their own garden to donate.

“Go ahead and do it,” Madsen said. “And don’t worry about having too much or too little or something. I’ve seen people bring a box like this with some tomatoes and cucumbers in and they seem to be very welcome and the zucchinis, I see people bringing. So whatever you can grow, you’ve got space for. Here, I’ve got 10 acres. But I know most gardeners don’t have that much. But a lot of farmers have got much more than that if they wanted to do it they could help out.

Planted ground at Madsen Gardens in Brookings, S.D.
Ariana Schumacher /Agweek

The garden is getting the community together to get their hands dirty, all for a good cause.

“Because you don’t really want people to starve, and you want people to have food,” Aly Bachar said.

“ I talk to people, and they said, 'oh I would like to do that, and I say well come on out,'” Madsen said.

Madsen says his biggest concern right now is the drier conditions. There is no rain in the forecast and he does not have irrigation, so they could see some plant stress in the coming weeks.

Ariana is a reporter for Agweek based out of South Dakota. She graduated from South Dakota State University in 2022 with a double major in Agricultural Communications and Journalism, with a minor in Animal Science. She is currently a graduate student at SDSU, working towards her Masters of Mass Communications degree. She enjoys reporting on all things agriculture and sharing the stories that matter to both the producers and the consumers.

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