Cheyenne River Youth Project
Volunteer Spotlight: Emma Kalff

Volunteer Spotlight: Emma Kalff

My name is Emma Kalff. I’m 26 years old, and I grew up in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. I was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and my parents moved to the United States shortly after my birth. My grandparents on my mother’s side both came from Dutch farming families.

I graduated from Boston University in 2015 with a degree in sociology, and for the past few years, I’ve been working as a painter. I’m currently traveling across the United States, making and selling paintings. I’m very interested in people, and a lot of my work as a painter is about the daily lives of people across this country. 

While I’m traveling, I work on farms in exchange for room and board. I found out about CRYP through a website called www.wwooofusa.org, which lists all of the farms across the country that offer work in exchange for a place to sleep and three meals a day. 

Through farm work, I’ve been learning how to grow produce; when I settle down, I want to be able to grow my own food. I thought working at CRYP would help me to continue on that journey. Volunteering here also appealed to me because I’ve worked with kids a lot in my life and always enjoy their presence; also, I’d never been on a reservation before and love experiencing new cultures.  

I arrived in Eagle Butte on Sept. 11 and will be here until Nov. 23. I am up at 7 a.m. each day and usually spend some time cleaning and cutting up produce, and putting it in the freezer so the kitchen staff can use it to make meals in the farm-to-table Keya (Turtle) Cafe. Then, Garden Manager Aidan Shaughnessy and I go out into the Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden and harvest for a little while.

We’ve been picking tomatoes, beans, corn, squash, cucumbers, zucchini, beets and raspberries. We’ve also been building a greenhouse so CRYP can continue growing vegetables into the shoulder seasons and even through the harsh winter weather. 

In the afternoons, we work with teen interns. So far, they’ve been helping to plant produce in the greenhouse and harvest vegetables. I’ve really enjoyed working with them and getting to know them. They’ve helped us out so much. I also love when the kids from The Main, CRYP’s youth center for 4- to 12-year-olds, come for Garden Club. I love seeing them run through the field. I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids so excited about vegetables!

To me, growing food in a garden is a special way to show people I care. It feels good to know that all the work Aidan and I do becomes food on people’s plates. I also really appreciate the time I’ve gotten to spend with kids here. If they are interested in learning, I am so happy to teach them what I know about growing food so that they can also do it for the people they love.  

From what I’ve seen in my short time here, the young kids really enjoy being able to come to The Main in the afternoons, spend time with their friends, and eat a meal together. On Wednesdays, when the teen and youth centers are closed, I often run into kids outside, and they ask, “Will there be Main today?”

When it comes to reservations, I think there is a lot of fear and misunderstanding among white people. I’m really glad I came here. I have felt so welcomed. I think some people have a very narrow idea what reservation life is really like—they would be surprised to know that there is so much good here.  

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702 4th Street

P.O. Box 410

Eagle Butte, SD 57625

Phone: 1-605-964-8200

Fax: 1-605-964-8201

lakotayouth@gmail.com

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