Gardening and Gathering on the Rosebud Reservation

Final Report for FNC97-002

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1997: $8,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The applicants were seven new gardeners each with a small food garden at their house in a housing cluster on the Rosebud Lakota reservation in south central South Dakota.

These small beginning gardens were basic and somewhat traditional. Crops included potatoes, radishes, onions, tomatoes, turnips, and winter squash. Most gardens were new, having started with the “Garden for Health” project in 1995.

These “producers” also gather and sun dry. They are planting local wild fruits and nuts, re-establishing fruit thickets near their houses and in appropriate locations in or near their community housing clusters. Wild fruits include chokecherries, plums, buffaloberries, grapes, nuts are hazels.

Before 1995, when the “Garden for Health” project began with its promotion and practice of food gardening and fruit bush planting, almost no growing was done on the Rosebud. Traditionally, Lakota were hunters and gatherers; after being put on reservations neither farming nor gardening was begun.

Now, as food gathering is being accepted, even expected, methods are the most simple and nature-related, i.e. tilling by fork, soil improvement by manure, pest management by inter-cropping and disagreeable teas. Windbreaks of fruit bearing bushes around the gardens protect from erosion, mulch holds moisture, heritage seeds are selected and saved when reasonable.

Project goals were:
- Increase number of gardeners and gatherers on the Rosebud reservation
- Provide education for the prevention of diabetes
- Strengthen our connections with our Mother Earth

Late fall/winter 1997: each “producer” and several interested youth were to meet in a series of get togethers and learn about living shelterbelts of local fruit bearing species. They were to watch winter snow drifts and draw up specific planting plans.

Most producers held these meetings; level of youth interest varied. We did not begin paying “internships”.

March: producers and their youth planted their shelterbelt seedlings. Many friends of interested youth joined in and then planned food gardens.

April: strong youth leaders emerged in two of the original seven communities. They and their friends prepared garden plots throughout their communities. And they began receiving “internships”.

May: youth planted their own garden plots and assisted many elders to prepare and plant their gardens.

During the summer: youth teams in the reservation communities of Upper Cut Meat and Parmelee cared for their tree seedlings and the food gardens.

Adult organizational leadership faltered in the other communities, although they had held winter meetings. They planted tree seedlings and started gardens. Individually the shelterbelts and gardens grew ok in these communities (Black Pipe, Two Strike, Corn Creek and White River/Horse Creek), but the youth didn’t actually continue as a “project”.

The youth and friends in Upper Cut Meat and Parmelee, however, formed vital units, and with their adult leaders expanded their activities to include honey beekeeping, horse skills, repair/maintenance of buildings and autos, renewable energy, sun drying wild fruit, and games (volleyball, bow and arrow).

These youth, through their adult leaders continued their internships. The Permaculture Group found funds enabling this larger number of interns to continue receiving wages/incentives throughout the season. Tree planting workshops were held in August, orders for next year’s seedling were completed in September.

During the fall of 1998: in October interns became aware of the QIC-FMNP (Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program). With the cooperation of the reservation WIC office and assistance from the Permaculture Group, Federal application forms were in by the November deadline and working meetings began as interns started figuring out exactly how their gardens and their markets would function in the summer of 1999.

Note: the WIC-FMNP will be mentioned several times in the remainder of this report. WIC-FMNP stands for Women, Infants and Children – Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program. It is a program in which small farmers who produce vegetables receive a Federal subsidy directed to them through WIC. Regular WIC recipients receive special coupons which they can use only at a pre-determined local garden or market.

There are few producers or businessmen on the reservation. Even well wishers are hard to find. Local Extension serves only the ranchers.

Assisted with shelterbelts:
NRCS – Shanna Rugenstein is liaison to the Rosebud Reservation. She assisted by showing interest in the windbreak and shelterbelt plans and plantings.

Assisted with Gardens:
Local ranchers – Joe Kary, rancher, assisted the interns by making manure available for gardens. Tom Hogan, rancher, assisted the inters by making spoiled hay available as mulch.

Sinte Gleska University faculty – SGU is the college on the reservation. Ann Krush is instructor of Permaculture and Outreach. She seeks appropriate information and experiences from literature and practitioners and shares these among participants.

Assisting with WIC-FMNP:
Reservation WIC – Roz Bolzer is nutritionist for the Rosebud WIC Program. She has helped enormously in completing the Federal WIC-FMNP forms and in organizing the regular WIC recipients to participate in the FMNP. Cheryl Kennedy of the WIC regional office in Denver is also being very helpful.

Badland/South Central Enterprise Facilitation – Nancy Larsen is facilitator for this non profit small enterprise consultation service. She is assisting the interns with guidance for planning their gardens and setting up their markets as a small enterprise.

Mississippi Band Choktah Reservation Extension – Al Evans is Reservation Extension for the Mississippi Band Choktah. He is the market manager for their WIC-FMNP and is helping Rosebud interns by sharing the Choktah experience as Rosebud gets started.

Sinte Gleska University faculty – Woody Kipp is instructor of Native American literature. He is an environmental activist, gardener and draft horse teamster. He is becoming involved in the intern lead community garden/market process.

Results achieved related to goals:
- Increase number of gardeners: this fourth year of active promotion of food gardening and the first in which youth were very specifically encouraged, the numbers of gardens and gardeners increased many fold and gardening became accepted by/in the communities.
- Increase number of gatherers: with the deliberate planting of local fruit bearing bushes, and the re-establishing of thickets by the youth, gathering form existing bushes again became common, with elders encouraging the young people, teaching them to dry, etc.
- Education for the prevention of diabetes: it has become normal thinking that exercise in air and sun and diet including more fresh vegetables and fruits (less convenience store and fast foods) is more healthful.
- Strengthen connection with our Mother Earth: the tree planting, gardening ad gathering has without doubt raised awareness and comfort with their Mother Earth relationship among the members of the communities.

Note: these successes are not yet established. We must continue with encouragement and follow up for several years.

Results compared to prior situation:
Until a very few years ago there simply was no gardening, three planting or care. Within the housing clusters the earth was badly abused by wind, chasing dogs and kids, crankcase oil, junk cars. Awareness and care was gradually increasing, the activities of this year’s interns have made a tremendous difference in the attitudes and behavior of many members of the communities, and in the appearances of the communities.

Our results were excellent, although somewhat different than expected.

Our expectations were that in eight locations the adult leader of the gardening activities would have one or two youth interns learning and going throughout the approximately sixteen weeks of the summer, and that these interns would earn $5 an hour for about ten hours participation each week.

In actuality, gardeners aren’t necessarily leaders for youth and only two locations moved ahead in an organized way throughout the summer. At first we were disappointed that our expectations of eight locations were not being fulfilled. It soon became obvious, however, that in total there were more committed youth are planned for and that the results, while different than planned, were stronger and would have more lasting effects than we expected.

The two responsive communities are Upper Cut Meat and Parmelee. Their adult leaders are Vic and Cathy Young in Parmelee, and Estelle Yellow Eyes and Don Murray in Upper Cut Meat. In both communities the original interns brought in their friends and their learning and doing included the trees, gardens, gathering and assistance to elders as well as beginning renewable energy, with auto repairs and horse skills in Parmelee and beekeeping in Upper Cut Meat.

The adult leader who had provided the church building in Two Strike for demonstration plantings and classrooms dropped out. However, the youth in Parmelee have constructed a workshop from scrap materials, wired it with DC from old cars – and are now converting that to solar. This coming spring they will be putting in a market garden at their workshop site for the WIC-FMNP market.

Our expectation that all gardeners liked working with youth and that all the adult leaders would follow through throughout the summer was unrealistic. Alcoholism is ubiquitous on the reservation and inability to take responsibility and maintain commitments is a basic characteristic of alcoholism and to a great extent the cause of the inability on the reservation to overcome the current difficulties.

Now that the youth interns are established in two communities and adults and youth in other communities’ area noticing what they’re doing, we will encourage adults who are interested rather than expecting our garden leaders to also like working with youth.

We will also continue full support to this year’s youth, especially as they move on to the gardening and entrepreneurship necessary for the WIC-FMNP.

We learned that young people on the reservation are eager to strengthen their connections with Mother Earth and to activate a mutual relationship with her. We learned that youth are eager to learn skills which they have an opportunity to apply.

We are encouraged to continue seeking resources in order to provide the support that community adults and youth need to start/continue gardening, tree planting, enlivening their connection with Mother Earth.

We don’t recall that in our application we identified a specific “barrier”. There is not doubt, however, that the barrier we must overcome is the historical baggage that burdens us. We have been taught that we are personally without value and incapable of living productive lives in the modern world. We have been taught that as a people our way of cooperation with nature and with each other (rather than profit-oriented competitiveness) is wrong and “uncivilized”. As young people are given “permission” and opportunity to act in today’s world in a Lakota way, they will gain self confidence and experience successes. This year of tree planting and gardening with approval demonstrated as internships has been a major step which will continue.

A disadvantage of this project is that even when the time is right, implementing an action for change contains considerable risk of failure.

Advantages of this project are for whatever purpose, an action for change must be taken; nothing will happen unless someone(s) starts.

We would tell others that if they want to implement change, to go ahead alone or with whatever few are willing, and demonstrate that change in a way that others can easily see. Gradually others will come along.

Our project of “Gardening and Gathering on the Rosebud Reservation” is turning out to have considerable impact:

- Social: youth, families and neighbors are beginning to work together in their neighborhoods
- Environmental: windbreaks are in place, food gardening is leading to other plantings that will hold and improve the soil, strengthened connections with Mother Earth, near the houses is raising awareness that more care can be taken of the land leased to ranchers and of the Prairie as a whole.
- Economic: this year has prepared the young people to respond to the opportunity of the WIC-FMNP

We don’t actually “tell” others about our project. In our situation on the reservation, action must come from the people, not top down. We therefore act in small but conspicuous ways, and other learn about our project by seeing or asking.

Promotion was done internally, others learned by word of mouth from participants.

Some results became known publicly by rows of tires sprouting windbreak seedlings, by the best ever horticulture display at the Rosebud Fair, by the appearance of neighborhood apiaries protected from cattle by solar electric fences, by young people busy and out of mischief.

As these successes have lead to the implementation of the WIC-Farmer’s Market program, the WIC office is telling all recipients of the opportunity of additional vouchers through the new food gardens in their communities.

Community members see and gossip. The Fair’s horticulture exhibit had several hundred visitors. The county newspaper gave several pages to the Fair’s horticulture exhibit and has announced the WIC-FMNP program, as has the local radio station KINI. WIC recipients (there are over 900) have been told personally of the FMNP at their monthly interviews and nutrition classes. They are being encouraged to take part in the garden production as well as the “buying”.

Here on the Rosebud, the word of the existence of WIC-voucher Farmer’s Markets will quickly spread. Generally, however, people wait to see proven success before joining in.

We have been put in touch with other reservations whose members want to participate in the WIC-FMNP but with whom food gardening is not a common activity. We will be sharing our experiences with them.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.