Reporting by Rose Fraser, Program Coordinator for Oyate Teca Project, ChildFund Affiliate
Gardening can be slow to give its rewards, a challenge when the growing season is short. But with some planning, patience and hard work, children, youth and community members on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation enjoyed a bumper crop — not only in vegetables but also in learning and activities stemming from the garden they planted. It all happened through a youth-led effort of the Oyate Teca project, ChildFund’s partner organization on the reservation, which is home to the Oglala Sioux tribe. Oyate Teca, working with a strong psycho-social emphasis and in partnership with youth, seeks to empower families to create a better future for themselves and their children.
In Pine Ridge, an expanse of land nearly the size of Connecticut, it’s not just the climate extremes that make for harsh conditions: About 80 percent of adults are unemployed, nearly half the families live below the poverty line, the life expectancy hovers around age 50 and the teen suicide rate is 150 times the national average.
But there’s a garden near South Dakota’s badlands. With ChildFund’s recent contribution of a new water pump and fencing for Oyate Teca, it was the perfect time to dig in.
We began preparing for our garden in late March of this year. First we filled hundreds of planting cells with planting mix, then carefully tucked in the seeds.
The cells, seeds, soil and all the tools were donated by the Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, a nonprofit organization that helps many schools and organizations on the reservation. National Relief Charities donated a shed and some other supplies.
We watched our little plants grow for four weeks. During that time, we learned that tilling the ground really well might keep grasshoppers from hatching, so after the last frost we tilled the garden three times. National Relief Charities brought their tractor and tilled the hard ground on April 15, then again with a smaller tiller a week later, and then one more time two weeks after that.
To make our lives easier, we installed soaker hoses. Friends of Pine Ridge donated those as well. In the background, you can see the fence from ChildFund. It keeps the horses and other animals out.
In early May, we got to plant! We planted the potatoes (reds and Yukon golds), onions (four kinds — Walla Walla, Spanish, red and scallions), peas, carrots and beets.
We also planted corn, tomatoes, snow peas, green beans, lettuces, cucumbers, zucchini, Hubbard squash, cantaloupe, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and herbs.
And then we watched the plants grow …
… and grow …
… and grow. Wow!
We could barely keep up with the harvest and had to bring in some outside help, two people from the National Indian Council on Aging, who help four hours every day, and some workers through a government program, Temporary Aid for Needy Families.
We had enough to run a stand at the farmers’ market a few times. We also learned about the differences between fresh food and processed food, how eating healthy can prevent diabetes (which is a big problem on the reservation!), how growing your food can cut down on your grocery bill and about preserving vegetables for winter.
Best of all was finding out how tasty fresh vegetables really are, like Tasani did. “What are these?” she asked when she spotted a big bowl of snow peas on a table.
“I don’t like peas!” she said.
“Just try them, Tasani.”
She hesitated, then daintily took one and nibbled on it. “I don’t like peas,” she repeated, “but I like these peas.”