In the middle of the Hays Community Garden is Newah’s Garden, which grows in the dedicated care of local grandmothers. Overall, the Hays Community Garden provides plots for local residents to grow their own vegetables and fruits, and fosters a sense of community and connection among gardeners.

MSU Extension Fort Belknap agents Liz Werk and Hillary Maxwell turned to help from local grandmothers to plan and maintain Newah’s garden and care for the central gathering place.

Newah is spelled like it sounds or reads in English, and means grandmother in the Gros Ventre language, where it is spelled níiiwcchuh.

Joanie Racine, Tammy Werk and Lorraine Brockie took on the project mid-season in 2021, and in summer of 2022, they planned to integrate native culture and heritage through plants.

“We were in total agreement, all three of us grandmas, because we know some things about the plants, especially the native plants, we have had knowledge passed down to us by our ancestors for thousands of years. We know when to harvest and when to plant all of it and how to preserve it after it’s picked,” said Racine.

She is very passionate about the garden and explained the reason for its design, “The garden has an arbor in the shape of a medicine wheel, circular, it has four colors, four directions and also is represented by four animals.
The medicine wheel represents the cycle of life, everything flows in a circle. My husband, Don Racine Jr., made the arbor that encompasses the garden.”

The grandmothers transplanted some local, native plants into the four sections of the garden and collected local rock and resources to support the plants that can be used in the community. They knew what plants they wanted as the plan came together for sharing the garden.

The grandmas and MSU Extension received funds through a Reimagining Rural Grant to make and install five new concrete benches at the garden. The Blue Heaven Harnessing Hope Project, managed by Toby and Liz Werk, helped provide building materials and supplies.

“Our goal is to educate the children about plants as medicine, as foods, for ceremonial uses, we want to share our knowledge. Our grandchildren want to learn. And the garden can be a gathering place where people can visit, and we can educate them about the plants, their history, and their importance to our culture.”


Garden sign.

Photo: Joan Racine

“The medicine wheel represents the cycle of life, everything flows in a circle.”


An image of a garden.

Photo: image from Montana PBS video

To invite all ages to spend time at the garden, the grandmas hope to raise funds to add smaller benches for children in the future.

“We are grandmothers, and we really want our grandchildren to feel like they have a spot in the garden as well,” said Racine.


Sara Adlington is the MSU Extension Editor and Publications Coordinator.