On Friday, May 6, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® formally blessed the 2-acre, naturally grown Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) garden for the 2016 growing season. Richard Charging Eagle conducted the garden blessing, and 12 young people joined staff members in planting corn for the season.

Next on deck: planting potatoes; getting the starter squash in and covering them with squash guards; and, once the garden’s landscape plan is complete, planting fruit trees and kiwi bushes along the fence at the end of Winyan Toka Win’s north-facing rows. There, they’ll receive plenty of sun and eventually will serve as a windbreak. A watering system will give each tree and bush a root well and drip line.

Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, said staff and youth alike are eager to plant the fruit trees and bushes, which will be espaliered.

“Essentially, that means we’ll be pruning and training them to grow flat against a support such as a trellis, which creates living sculptures,” Garreau explained. “It’s an ancient horticultural art with multiple benefits. Espaliered trees allow us to maximize fruit production in a limited space; the fruit will be easier to pick, since we won’t need ladders; and garden artistry is a wonderful way to encourage our community members to spend time here and learn more more about what we’re doing.”

“Normally, artistic gardening like this is done on estates,” said Floyd Braun, a CRYP youth programs assistant who enjoys working in the garden and takes a leadership role each season. “Growing the trees in espalier style will give us something really special and unique here.”

Braun also noted that the blessing happened later than expected this spring due to some flooding and ongoing light freezes. The good news, he said, is the postponement from Earth Day in April to May 6 gave the staff more time for essential tasks such as cleaning the beds and walkways.

CRYP’s Winyan Toka Win garden has been nominated for several awards in the last decade, including the Garden Supply Company’s Garden Crusaders Award of 2005-2006. Its community and youth programming is made possible through a South Dakota Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant, a Native Agriculture and Food Systems grant, additional garden grants from Honor the Earth, Running Strong for American Indian Youth, the Wellmark Foundation and the J.R. Albert Foundation, and generous contributions from a variety of individual supporters.

Winyan Toka Win plays a significant and growing role on Cheyenne River. Last year, CRYP was able to harvest thousands of pounds of crops that staff members incorporated into daily youth meals and snacks, regular and specialty menu items in the Keya (Turtle) Cafe & Coffeehouse, and dried and canned food items for sale through the Keya Gift Shop. The youth project also held its weekly Leading Lady Farmers Market throughout the summer and fall seasons, and it hosted more than 60 community members at its annual Harvest Festival dinner.

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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.