More than 230 people attended the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s 7th annual Harvest Festival on Oct. 25, breaking the record for the nonprofit youth project’s signature Native Food Sovereignty event. Held in conjunction with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Indian Child Welfare program and open free to the public, the Harvest Festival provided Halloween-themed youth activities, a hayride, and a homemade meal featuring fresh, organically grown produce from the 2.5-acre Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden.
The highlight was the hearty dinner buffet at CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life), which included buffalo pot roast and turkey, mixed salad, butternut squash apple bisque, roasted and sautéed squash and beets, mashed potato squash, and dinner rolls. Youth Programs Assistant Anthony Potter was in charge of the kitchen, and he guided the Native Food Sovereignty teen interns through the entire process.
“We wanted our interns to see the end result of all the hard work they put into harvesting and processing during this growing season,” Potter said. “I worked with them the day before and the day of the Harvest Festival, showing them how to prepare and use all the ingredients. They also helped serve the food to our community, and we recognized them during a special presentation.”
Native Food Sovereignty is one of CRYP’s core initiatives. And, according to Potter, it’s a vital one for the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation community — and for native communities across the country.
“First, we live in a food desert, so it’s both challenging and expensive to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, especially if you want buy organic,” he explained. “If each household planted a garden, we could provide our whole community with fresh produce for at least part of the year. Second, if we grow our own herbs, vegetables and fruits, we can sell, trade and share with our family members, friends and neighbors, which strengthens our community.
“And third, native people suffer from diabetes and other illnesses in part due to the lack of fresh produce in our diets,” he continued. “If we could flood our community with locally grown fruits and vegetables, we would be able to help fight debilitating diseases and conditions that are related to poor nutrition.”
Last month, Potter and Finance Manager Crystal Lind traveled to Taos, New Mexico, to participate in the Taos Economic Development Center’s Food Sector Opportunity Project. This program is designed to educate participants on the many aspects of starting, operating and financing a food-based business.
The duo learned about commercializing food products, food microbiology, how to develop a food safety plan, food business basics, permit categorizing and parameters, good manufacturing practices, product labeling requirements, and marketing strategies for packaging, product design and causes. They also earned graduation certificates for successfully completing the program.
“We’re grateful that Anthony and Crystal could have this opportunity,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Every time we advance our own education and skills, we enhance our capacity to take our Native Food Sovereignty initiatives to the next level here on Cheyenne River.”
The thriving Winyan Toka Win Garden lies at the heart of CRYP’s Native Food Sovereignty programming. Not only does it provide fresh produce for meals and gifts, it also serves as an outdoor classroom for The Main’s Garden Club, the Native Food Sovereignty Teen Internship, and community classes and workshops — and provides a valuable conduit for connecting with Lakota culture.
“We work hard to incorporate traditional Lakota values and life ways into everything we do, including our Native Food Sovereignty programs and events,” Garreau explained. “We’re dedicated to strengthening the connection our children and families have with their Lakota culture, because that is essential to holistic wellness and a vibrant future for our community.”
To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@lakotayouth and @waniyetuwowapi).
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.