Although the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation has been dealing with late-season blizzards and cold temperatures this spring, the staff and youth participants at the Cheyenne River Youth Project are not letting that slow them down. Native Food Sovereignty spring programming at the nonprofit organization is well under way.
At the heart of CRYP’s Native Food Sovereignty initiative is the 2.5-acre, pesticide-free Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden, which serves as a living classroom as well as a source of fresh, nutritious produce. Although it’s still too early for planting, CRYP is preparing for this year’s growing season by launching the 2023 Garden Club and the spring 2023 cohort of Native Food Sovereignty interns.
“Garden Club has been a signature program at The Main, our youth center for 4- to 12-year-olds, for nearly two decades,” said Jerica Widow, programs manager. “The littles gain hands-on experience in the garden, learning how to plant, water, weed and harvest. While we wait for the ground to thaw, we’re meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to do garden-related activities and crafts. The kids are excited to get out there.”
Garden Club officially started on Mar. 20 and will run until Sept. 15. To date, the children have made their own salads and green smoothies; learned about pots, seeds, water, soil; discovered how they can get start the growing season early using indoor lights and starter plants; and explored the world of succulents.
The teens are busy, too. According to Internship Manager Morgan Robinson, 10 Native Food Sovereignty Interns also are getting ready for this year’s growing season in the Winyan Toka Win Garden.
“We’ve been exploring the history of traditional foods, and how the treaties and stolen lands disrupted the Lakota people’s food security and sovereignty,” she explained. “We also made planters, with the kids choosing what they wanted to grow.”
Like the younger children in Garden Club, these teens will gain hands-on experience in the Winyan Toka Win Garden throughout the growing and harvest seasons. They also will learn to process and preserve food items in the Čhokáta Wičhóni (Center of Life) commercial kitchen.
“As the food is harvested, the teen interns will be canning and drying food items that we will sell in our Keya (Turtle) Gift Shop and E-Store, and they will help incorporate fresh produce into meals and snacks at our youth and teen centers,” Widow said.
The garden produces roughly 10,000 pounds of produce in a year, including vegetables and native fruits such as chokecherry and sand cherry. This locally grown produce is a valuable resource in this remote region, and it demonstrates to Cheyenne River’s young people that they can provide for their loved ones through community and family gardens.
“It’s difficult and costly for our people to obtain non-GMO, organic fruits and vegetables,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We’re teaching our youth that not only can they grow their own healthy food, they can freeze it or preserve it so it will last well into the winter months.
“When they work with the earth, grow and care for plants, and harvest their own food, they also are connecting with our culture, our ancestors, and Wólakhota, our sacred way of life,” she continued. “They are reclaiming what is theirs.”
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, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
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.