The Cheyenne River Youth Project® has received a $25,000 Native Agriculture & Food Systems Grant from the Longmont, Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute. These funds will allow the nearly 27-year-old, not-for-profit youth organization to continue developing its Winyan Toka Win (“Leading Lady”) micro farm operation.

CRYP is one of nine tribes and Native American organizations to receive grants through the First Nations Development Institute’s Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative for the 2015-16 funding cycle. NAFSI is designed to help tribes and native communities build sustainable food systems such as community gardens and kitchens, traditional farms and ranches, and other agriculture- and food-related projects that will help eliminate food insecurity and enhance economic development in rural and reservation-based communities.

Since 2011, First Nations has been the largest grantmaker in Indian Country, other than the federal government, to support programmatic efforts to reclaim control of native food systems. As an award recipient, CRYP will build off the experiences and lessons learned from previous First Nations grantees as it pursues its own distinct vision for food security and sovereignty on South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

CRYP started the Winyan Toka Win garden in 1999. In the beginning, it was a simple, naturally grown garden designed to provide fresh produce for meals and snacks at The Main youth center. Today, it’s a veritable micro farm. Not only does the 2-acre property continue to support healthy meals and snacks for 4- to 12-year-olds at The Main and teens at the Cokata Wiconi teen center, it also provides fresh and processed foods for the weekly Leading Lady Farmers Market, the farm-to-table Keya Cafe & Coffeeshop, and the Keya Gift Shop.

In addition, CRYP engages young children in the garden through its summertime Garden Club program, and teens learn valuable job and life skills through an innovative garden internship program. Community members are regularly invited to participate in special classes that teach valuable skills such as canning and making traditional foods like wojapi.

“As Lakota people, our connection to the earth is a fundamental part of who we are,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Our sustainable agriculture initiatives demonstrate our commitment not only to food security, but to reconciliation, healing, and holistic wellness. Reconnecting to the land and taking an active role in producing nourishing, healthy foods for our communities support our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being as a people.”

Once again, grant funding is provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek Michigan, which has been a major NAFSI supporter. In 2011, WKKF awarded $2.8 million to First Nations to support agriculture and food-related projects that improve the physical health and well-being of Native American children, families and communities. Between 2011 and 2014, NAFSI grantees funded via WKKF’s support planted, grew and harvested approximately 428,915 pounds of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, equivalent to more than 200 tons of healthy, nutritious food.

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.