Squash in Sustainable Food Production

Final Report for YENC13-061

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2013: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Manager:
Sue Isbell
NDSU Sioux County Extension
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Project Information


PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS Youth from three Tribal communities across the prairies of North Dakota were mentored through activities about sustainable agriculture, local foods, gardening methods, marketing, and concepts and practices of breeding and seed saving. Over the two summers they learned the specifics of growing, marketing, eating, and breeding squash and learned to choose the appropriate species to select their seeds from. Youth will also present extra produce to local Elders, sell at the local Farmers Market, visit with other growers and people that market regularly at Farmers Markets. Youth will learn to cook and eat squash at home. They will learn various facets of a sustainable food system (breeding, production, marketing, consumption, and heath). Youth from the Tribal communities took part in public outreach by speaking to peers, community members, and Elders about the project.

BACKGROUND: Tribal youth have been reached by local school enrichment programs using the Junior Master Garden Program. School gardens were used to implement the skills learned from the Junior Master Garden Program. Youth have also had hands-on experience working with community members, and Elders at the local community garden.

GOALS: Good nutrition and incomes are concerns across North Dakota and among the Tribal communities which often lack fresh produce and job opportunities. There are gardeners in the Tribal communities and squash is a popular fruit, but space is often limited and there are few bush varieties with local adaption. Sustainable approaches to horticulture are still fairly new and being worked on presently, so the idea of creating sustainability will be beneficial. This project addresses these by bringing new knowledge, tools, and experiences to Tribal youth. They will be empowered as sustainable farmers, marketers, plant breeders, and seed producers, experiencing sustainability from genetics to the field to the dinner plate. They will gain experience communicating with their communities across the state. They will select good seeds for growing, breeding, and marketing. Communities will gain youth ambassadors for sustainability and positive change.

PROCESS: The youth from the Tribal communities are hands-on learners. All learning sessions were, with weather permitting, held outdoors and the youth were able to do hands-on learning experiences. Community members and Elders were included in the process for this grant program. It is very important everyone is involved so the lessons learned are shared and talked about beyond the garden experience.

Colette Wolf, Agro ecology Extension Educator at United Tribes Technical College, Sue Isbell, Sioux County 4-H Youth Development Agent, mentored the youth activities at their locations. They collaborated on planning, and executing the program activities.

The Junior Master Gardener materials from TAMU Extension were used to form the base of knowledge for the garden activities.

Local Elders shared their garden and food knowledge from the traditional point of view.

Garden space was provided by Tribal College and local Extension Offices.

“Buffalo Bird Women’s Garden” was used to provide a historical perspective on gardening and marketing.

Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society Farm Breeding Club member provided information on genetics and seed saving. He conducted workshops several times during the grant at various sites. NE-SARE sustainable vegetable production videos and SARE printed materials were used to provide examples and techniques for sustainable production and marketing.

Information form Tina Voigt at http://www.americanindianfoods.com/ provided relevant success stories.

RESULTS: I feel the largest result we saw from the project was the youth taking a genuine interest in the idea of sustainability. By the youth working with mentors and Elders they were able to learn about the historical importance of gardening. Many of the youth didn’t realize ancestors always gardened in one form or another. They learned, by listening to the Elders speak, about how the health issues never used to be and that it has come about by choices being made in the types of foods eaten. This was a real eye opener to the youth. The youth were asking what they could do to change things and the Elders encouraged the gardening. They also taught the youth how the garden produce was preserved to last during the long winter months. The idea they could “design” their own variety of squash was very empowering to the “kids”. They took real ownership of the project and were very intent on learning the skills required to reach their goals. At the end of the growing season the youth were making plans for the 2014 growing season, which is the real sign they bought in to the program. Success was achieved because we have created awareness of sustainability and renewed the idea of gardening with our youth.

DISCUSSION: We learned as with most projects it often takes much longer to achieve the desired results. Did our project turn out exactly as we intended from the start? Absolutely not! Was our project successful? Absolutely! We were able to engage youth, Elders, and community members working on a common goal. Creating sustainability and providing a healthier diet to our community was successful. The program will continue beyond this grant at all sites. The mentors, communities, and youth are committed to continuing with the project. The plant breeding will continue until the youth feel they have achieved the goal and have a predicable bush variety squash that is acceptable to our people. They have a desire to have a naming ceremony when this is achieved. This is a great project but I would recommend a longer term so the youth would be able to follow it to completion within the grant period. Also, being aware of the number of mentors needed to complete the project is very important. The dollars required are not large but the time needed is huge.

OUTREACH: We conducted several workshops inviting community members, Elders, and youth to take part. Fort Yates was the site of the first workshop with community members from Standing Rock and the White Shield community. The group was privileged to have Elders sharing stories from the past. Hands-on activities included a healthy soils workshop and tasting various garden items – some common and some unique ones. United Tribes hosted two events; one very special event was the traditional blessing by a White Shield Elder. Another event on the campus of United Tribes was a fall festival with the community taking part. Standing Rock saw the youth marketing at the local Farmers Market and delivering produce to the Elders. Local schools were also able to add fresh produce to the hot lunch program because of the hard work of the youth.

A presentation on this project was given at the 2015 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum, held in conjunction with the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society (NPSAS) Conference. A video recording is available through NCR-SARE's YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/Y-7xnEcQbyg?list=PLQLK9r1ZBhhFIETmMLo1dZBEVYZWXBIM1


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  • Colette Wolf

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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.