Interns for Rosebud WIC Gardens

Final Report for FNC98-004

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1998: $8,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Expand All

Project Information


Before being confined to reservations, the Sicangu Lakota were expert hunters and gatherers, enjoying the excellent health of proper nutrition, outdoor exercise and spiritual connectedness with all Mother Earth’s universe. Youth, adults and elders all have meaningful tasks as they fulfilled their roles within the society. With the invasion of the 1880s all was destroyed, survivors becoming dependent on the US Government for food and shelter. These basic circumstances have changed little, perhaps worsened. By the 1900s, alcohol an diabetes are ubiquitous, mal-nutrition is pervasive, there is no employment or tasks available, spirit and self-confidence are broken.

WIC food gardens are newly established (second or third year) and are of the Youth Interns. The gardens are small, located at the house of each Intern’s family in the participating communities (housing or neighborhood on the Rosebud reservation). The Interns grow plants that are easy to grow and that are known to WIC families, such as potatoes, radishes, onions, tomatoes, turnips, and winter squash.

Growing conditions are extreme temperatures, about 12” precipitation, windy, grassland soils of clay or sand. Gardeners are still beginners; gardens are located at the houses. Most households are dysfunctional due to alcohol abuse.

With the guidance of an Adult of the neighborhood, the Youth are developing their own neighborhood WIC Markets. The Youth’s garden produce goes to the neighborhood WIC Market. WIC recipients obtain it with their coupons; the federal coupon money goes to the producer.

During the 1999 season, operators were Youth of four communities, establishing first year WIC Markets:
- Parmelee – Youth Interns had worked together the year before, were well organized and enthusiastic (Adults: Vic and Cathy Young)
- Upper Cut Meat – Youth were less organized but had adequate experience from the year before (Adult: Estelle Yellow Eyes)
- Two Strike – the Adult was a long time gardener but the Youth had little experience (Adult: Mary Iron Shield)
- Southern South Antelope – neighborhood was just getting organized through the efforts of one Adult (Adult” Tom Hacker)

Before the invasion of the late 1800s, the Lakota people were nomadic hunters and gatherers, guided by Mother Earth, practicing the most sustainable method. After being put on reservations, neither farming nor gardening was begun.

A small “Garden for Health” project was begun in 1995, promoting the practices of natural food gardening (tilling with a fork, fertilizing with manure and mulch, the re-establishing of wild fruit thickets and renewal of traditional gathering (chokecherries, plums, buffalo berries). Caring for areas of perennial crops and the traditional practices of sun drying and seed saving were re-introduced.

This project’s goal is that youth have guidance and support as they implement the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

The underlying long term objectives are that:
- Through outdoor exercise and improved eating habits, diabetes will be prevented
- Adequate and wholesome food is available on the Rosebud
- Our connections with Mother Earth are strengthened
- We are cleansed in body and spirit

During the winter, youth teams, with guidance from their adults, designed food bearing shelterbelts for their own communities, planting them in early spring. In the early spring, they then planned their food gardens and contacted/encouraged neighbors (WIC and non WIC) to participate. They organized the gardeners in their communities, figured out producer/recipient relationships. They cared for the gardens, promoted and opened their markets, kept records required by the federally supported WIC-FMNP. Adults participated in workshops about shelterbelts, food gardening, small market management, provided by the Center for Permaculture as Native Science.

The basics of the Lakota way are oneness with our Mother Earth and all her Companions and Inhabitants. We have never allowed ourselves to be acculturated to the idea of “taming” or “exploiting” Nature – rather we believe and live by a philosophy of mutual care between ourselves and all our Relatives.

We do not need to “teach” sustainable practices to take the place of methods that are unsound environmentally. What we do need is opportunity and encouragement for each person to be active in his/her own sustenance, less and less dependent on governmental programs. Education and encouragement to youth, through active informed Adults as models/mentors, seems a logical approach.

People -Producers:
- Vic and Cathy Young – excellent lead Adults in Parmelee, active in tree planting, food gardening and establishing WIC market, with full participation of many (8-10) youth.
- Estelle Yellow Eyes – Steady lead Adult in Upper Cut Meat, doing tree planting, food gardening and distributing wild and grown produce to Upper Cut Meat WIC with a youth team of four. These youth also have established a small apiary.
- Mary Iron – long time gardener in Two Strike, keeping steady with tree planting, food gardening and starting a small apiary with her own two boys and continuous contact with Two Strike leadership, Youth and WIC. Sticking with it and demonstrating is a major success in this housing.
- Tom Hacker – strong start in southern South Antelope with garden, his own young children and intermittent neighborhood youth. Distributed produce to neighborhood WIC recipients. Looks very good for next year (2000 season).

Businesspeople, professional:
- Nancy Larsen – SD Enterprise Development, presented several lessons on marketing, recordkeeping, etc. to adults and some of the leading youth.
- Gary Corzan – USDA-Rural Development, Federal Building, made one personal visit to acquaint himself with the very small markets we were starting, and then stayed in touch by phone with advice, and letter with ideas for actual contracts that might be necessary between a market and its producers.
- Seanna Rugenstein – NRCS Liaison to the Rosebud, provided instruction and handouts to the adults for windbreak trees and fruit bearing shrubs as shelterbelts; took on one of the projects adults (Tom Hacker) as an NRCS Assistant, through this project has gained considerable stability.

This year’s objective was that Youth would have guidance and support as they implemented gardening, gathering and the establishment of first year WIC Markets in several reservation communities.

Four communities stayed with the process throughout the season. Parmelee youth participation as well as gardening, gathering and a beginning market was all very successful. Upper Cut Meat was fully successful as a first year. Two Strike and southern South Antelope succeeded in building a strong base from which to progress next year.

The markets, dependent on Youth gardens, either happened or they didn’t. Four markets were established and operated.

The youth in those four successful communities kept photo records, all showing successes. Some photos were used on posters promoting WIC Markets and some on tribal, regional and national displays (Rosebud Tribal Fair, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society meeting, American Community Gardening Association conference).

Prior to 1995, no food gardens were evident on the Rosebud. The badly abused areas of the housings demonstrated the lack of respect and care of the Earth. At the beginning of this Diversity Enhancement grant period, many shelterbelts and some food gardens had been established, especially with youth participation. After this grant period, youth market gardens were established in four communities.

There is no small business on the reservation. Unemployment is consistently estimated at 85%. The only employers are government agencies and schools. This year’s youth gardens and markets were actually implemented in four communities. It’s a fully subsidized situation, but a major step away from “welfare”. The youth of these four communities are demonstrating real enthusiasm to others for doing productive work that is also strengthening connections with our Mother Earth.

Youth participation and the acceptance of food gardening in the communities was better than we expected and we’re very enthusiastic about continuing next year (2000).

Adult guidance was steady and it became possible (and actual) for the gardening youth to connect with the WIC families and began an awareness with them about a more nutritious diet through fruits and vegetables, especially gathered or home grown. Youth initiative in neighborhood marketing was greater than expected, demonstrated by horse and wagon hawking in Parmelee, and door to door vending by wheelbarrow in Upper Cut Meat.

We did not expect, however, the depth of disinterest on the part of the WIC coupon holders in fresh fruits and vegetables. Youth had expended considerable effort in planning their gardening to fulfill the expected demand by WIC families. Actually, WIC family participation was the low point of this season, and the basis for analysis and promotion next year.

The result that was not as we expected was the disinterest shown by WIC families in securing fresh fruits and vegetables in their own neighborhoods. In retrospect, we know that we made assumption where we should have analyzed:
1) We did not realize that regular WIC vouchers do not include produce. We thought we were promoting fresh wild fruits and home grown vegetables, where in fact we needed to be promoting any kind of fruits and vegetables.
2) We did not analyze why WIC (and other families) have become accustomed to a diet of white bred, bologna and chips. Only after the little interest shown did we realize that LIEP (Low Income Energy Program) does not operate in the summer, and without this program most families have no way to cook.

Along with our encouragement to gather and/or garden, we will increase our efforts of promoting eating fresh fruits and vegetables. We will do this with the kids, especially with WIC kids, with vegetable dolls, coloring and snacks. For 2000, the focus of our garden planning will change from easy to grow to able to eat raw. This will enable us to provide uncooked sample snacks to kids, fresh produce that needs no cooking to WIC families, and will also expand the gardening techniques of the youth.

We learned that, with a little encouragement and support, sober adults will take time for their family’s and neighborhood’s young people (and that drinking adults will not/cannot follow through).

We learned that young people are eager to have something to do. We learned that once they see that there is an opportunity for an on going responsibility for them and that the support will not fall away, they will become committed and enthusiastic to learn, do, take responsibility, and to bring in their friends.

We will continue to search for adult funding (stipends) and to welcome interested adults and provide them the support they need as they demonstrate and bring youth into on going Earth related activities in their own neighborhoods. We will see that the youth have the support they need.

The barrier we must overcome is the historical baggage that burdens us. For generations we have been taught that we are personally without value and that as a “race” we are incapable of living productive lives in the modern world.

As youth are given “permission”, opportunity, and support to act in today’s world with Lakota values and respect for all of Mother Earth, self confidence is gained, successes are experienced. This year of youth planting shelterbelts, planting and caring for food gardens, starting up neighborhood markets – and the encouragement demonstrated as internships—has been a major step which will continue.

Disadvantages: possibly the most important result of this project, in its context, is that it continues. Implementing an action that must not fall apart, that mush continue no matter how small, requires a commitment for continuous long term follow up.

Advantages: the need is so great, deep and pervasive, the smallest difference that can be made can be considered a major success.

Remembering that this project is one of support to youth (and adult guides), in a rural environment of poverty and alcoholism, we could tell other that:
1) Available support must be shown to be continuing in the long term, that it will not be siphoned off by higher ups that a person taking a step to participate will not be disappointed or laughed at for believing that support was actually available. Early adult participants must do the doing as subtle demonstration, and keep at it no matter how small/slow the response of neighbors of youth.
2) The actual activities must be of the participants, not “top down”. This may mean that the available support may do little more than very small demonstration for quite some time (several seasons) before potential participants will not only watch, but risk taking part.

Economic Impacts: these WIC markets, which actually subsidize neighborhood gardeners, are the first “cottage industry” begun on the reservation, a step away from “welfare”. They already have put a little cash in the pockets of reservation residents, cash that until now was going immediately off the reservation through the grocery store. This demonstrates a potential for marketing one’s own production, will increase, and encourage an initiative in other home production.

Youth participants, for the first time, earned real cash for their family’s needs and/or their own clothes or pleasure.

Environmental Impacts: the wild fruit bushes planted for future gathering are already serving as windbreaks and shelterbelts, very much needed by humans, two and four legged here on the open plains. Youth and community members are much more aware and this awareness is being brought into the county schools.

The food gardens at the houses of the participating youth are bringing attention to the badly abused areas of the housings and is leading to other forms of care such as landscape planting, fewer junk cars and car repair sites, etc.

Social Impacts: a few adults are taking on the responsibility of modeling for the youth. The reservation society has been broken of its traditional structure and ways, forced to survive by whatever means in a cash economy without cash. It is imbued with all the characteristics of alcoholism (dysfunctional households, no passing on of right behavior, no consequence for wrong behavior, no productive activities available, no experience of what is normal). That these youth interns have guidance, support and opportunity to be productively active within a framework of traditional values is making a burgeoning social difference.

Throughout the winter and spring, the participating adults and their youth teams had planning meetings about which everyone (potential gardeners, WIC families) were encouraged to come.

How: word of mouth, posters within each community
To whom: potential gardeners, WIC families

All winter Rosebud WIC explained and promoted the project at each monthly “clinic” at which every WIC receiving adult is interviewed. Each WIC adult received a hand out encouraging them to participate. In July, market youth took a lead in the WIC 25th Anniversary and Breast-Feeding celebration.

How: during monthly WIC eligibility interviews, with folders
To whom: all WIC recipients

In the spring, the project was announced several times on the reservation radio station KINI.

How: media (reservation radio)
To whom: most reservation households and offices keeps tuned to KINI because they announce all school and community events.

The new market days were big events in these small communities, isolated on the Prairie, where little is going on. Many in each community were involved in the market days, so of course they knew about them – gardeners planning to bring their produce or WIC families planning to bring their kids and coupons. The youth took the initiative in keeping the gardening and the marketing going.

How: work of mouth, community posters, media (reservation radio)
To whom: everyone in participating communities
How many people: approximately 30 people x 4 communities = 120 people each week x 12 weeks = 1440 market visits. Plus a quarter more for markets operating twice a week, i.e. +360 = 1800

This report needs to remind the reader that these marketing events were very small this first year, but they were real and laid the base for the 2000 season.

That the gardens and markets actually continued throughout the season was much talked about gossip and news, community by community. The youth prepared and attended a first time WIC market display at the Rosebud Fair. Adult guides presented at the annual conference of the American Community Gardening Association (September 1999 in Philadelphia) and the Program Coordinator presented at the annual conference of the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Association (January 2000 in Aberdeen, SD). In the spring of 2000, the meeting planning for the 2000 season, which was based on the 1999 season, was covered by the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, SD.

How: word of mouth, Rosebud Fair, presentations at conferences, media (Todd County Tribune, Argus Leader, KINI)
To whom: all on this and other South Dakota reservations, nearby white ranch families, attendees at regional and national conferences, readers of local newspapers.

At inter-tribal and inter-college meetings, the Rosebud Tribal Council and Sinte Gleska (community college) are proudly spreading the news about his process of youth developing food gardens and WIC subsidized markets in their own isolated housings on the Rosebud reservations.

The youth have joined the NA of FMNP (National Association of WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Programs) whose purpose is to share ideas, encouragement, and experience.

Rosebud WIC staff attend frequent regional meetings which focus on nutrition and the promotion of more wholesome eating. Many WIC mothers are the same age of the project’s youth and related easily when WIC staff shows posters and describes the small but real successes of 1999 interns for Rosebud WIC gardens.


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.