“I WANT TO SATURATE PINE RIDGE WITH HEALTHY VEGETABLES,” says Steve Hernandez, Oglala Sioux Tribe gardening instructor. “The interest in gardening here is huge, and education is key. Through classes in everything from soil preparation to preserving the harvest, we ensure that our people are increasingly able to do this for themselves.”
For Oglalas, eating fresh, organic produce will mean better health. It’s a declaration of sovereignty, according to Hernandez, a tribal member and a former educator for South Dakota State University’s extension service. And it’s starkly practical as well, he says: “Most of our food is trucked in. If there’s bad weather—common on the Plains—it doesn’t get through.”
Hernandez facilitates collaboration among a huge network of groups and individuals who spent the month of May tilling, planting and laying out drip irrigation lines throughout the reservation. These include Pine Ridge schools from pre-K through college; a youth emergency shelter in Pine Ridge village; Lakota Funds, in Kyle, which provides loans and grants; and Kyle’s youth center, Oyate Teca, where kids participate in gardening and other wholesome activities. The center also hosts the Lakota Ranch Beginning Farmer/ Rancher Program, with courses for adults in horticulture and animal husbandry.
In an ordinary growing season on the Northern Plains, indeed during an ordinary week, a gardener may face drought, grasshoppers, tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail, ceramic-hard soil and raccoons and other four-legged raiders. Then there’s the heat, which is worsening as the planet heats up. “Between June and August last year, there were only five days below 95 degrees,” recalled Cook. “I have watched the climate change.”
Cook, who is married to tribal member Loretta Afraid of Bear, has been helping Pine Ridge tackle these challenges since 1985. With support from Running Strong for Native American Youth, Plenty International and other funders, Slim Buttes’s 18-plus workers till more than 400 Pine Ridge household plots annually. These provide nearly 2,500 people with fresh fruits and vegetables—a little more than 6 percent of the reservation’s population.
The group hands out some 20,000 seedlings from its greenhouse, along with grocery sacks of seeds for peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, squash and more. Also included are plants, such as the medicinal herb Echinacea, that have prominent blossoms and help attract pollinators.
At Slim Buttes, gardeners amend the soil with needed nutrients, as they might anywhere, says Yellow Hair. But they also pray: “Prayer is a little-understood energy source. Every day, everything we do coalesces the forces of the universe into our soil.”
“Gardens provide liveliness, fun and beauty, in addition to fruits and vegetables,” says Schoch, of Old West Gypsy Market: “Gardens are gathering places. They make the community a nice place.”
Condensed from an article by Stephanie Woodard
Read more at http:// indiancountrytodaymedianetwork. com/2013/06/24/dig-it-northern-plains- gardeners-grow-food-health-and- sovereignty-150076
From Food for Thought, Issue 11. Published November 2013.