By midsummer, the 2-acre Winyan Toka Win garden inarguably is the heart of the Cheyenne River Youth Project® operation. Throughout the day, the garden is overflowing with staff members, long-term volunteers, community volunteers and youth participants, all of whom are dedicated to tending the naturally grown, pesticide-free plants and harvesting their bountiful, fresh, nutritious produce. And every Friday, colorful market stands sprout along East Lincoln Street at the CRYP campus, demonstrating this bounty to eager local buyers.
This year, in particular, has been a big one for CRYP’s garden and sustainable agriculture efforts. Not only has the organization hired a full-time garden coordinator for the summer months, it has hired 10 youth interns to work on garden and wellness programming at The Main youth center and Cokata Wiconi teen center, it has launched its first-ever series of community canning classes, and it has expanded its weekly Leading Lady Farmers Market to include 10 additional vendor stands, which are available to community vendors and youth participants.
Yet Winyan Toka Win still needs support. According to Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, every dollar donated to the youth project for the garden is dedicated to a specific budget item, and there are many items on the list.
“Thanks to grant funding from the Northwest Area Foundation, we were able to expand our farmers market and host the canning classes, and then funding from Diabetes Action Research (DARE) allowed us to hire teen interns for the summer months,” she explained. “We still have critical needs, however. Earlier this season, we needed to buy a wood chipper and new lawnmowers, which required significant funding. Now we’re facing shortages when it comes to water, mulch and other items that a garden the size of Winyan Toka Win needs on a daily basis.”
Garreau said Winyan Toka Win operations require a minimum of $5,000 each growing season. Those funds ensure that the garden is fully planted, maintained and harvested; the harvested produce then is used in the youth and teen centers’ meals and snacks, in the weekly Leading Lady Farmers Market, in the Keya Cafe, in the Gift Shop, and in classes and workshops that involve diabetes prevention, food preparation and processing.
“The value of the food we produce vastly exceeds the $5,000 we put into the garden each year,” Garreau noted. “Plus, the garden’s value as a classroom, as a living laboratory and as a sanctuary that reconnects our children with the earth and with their Lakota roots is priceless.
“We assure our supporters that we’re dedicated to leaving our little piece of land in better condition each fall than it was a year earlier,” she added. “We’ve worked very hard to learn how to care for the garden the right way. We’re investing in our future — through food safety, security and sovereignty. Supporting Winyan Toka Win isn’t just supporting CRYP; it’s supporting the entire Cheyenne River community as it moves toward a more sustainable future.”
Friends of CRYP can support the Winyan Toka Win garden by donating funds or supplying in-kind donations. To make a financial contribution, simply visit www.lakotayouth.org and click “Donate Now.” To make an in-kind donation, contact CRYP at (605) 964-8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a copy of the current “Garden Needs List.”
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.