According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the growing season in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, lasts just 129 days.
Other parts of the country have a growing season of 229 days – more than three months longer than that of Pine Ridge.
Within that short growing season on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, residents are given a head start each spring thanks to Running Strong for American Indian Youth® partner Slim Buttes Agricultural Development (SBAG), which for years has been providing thousands of seedlings to help family gardeners and community gardens get a jump start on the growing season.
This year, the SBAG plans include growing 6,800 seedlings for both hot and sweet peppers, three varieties of tomatoes and herbs in its large greenhouse, all to be planted as soon as possible following the last frost.
Next come corn, potatoes, cucumbers and melons and other direct-planting crops.
In the meantime, in the few weeks between late April and mid-May there are estimated up to 200 gardens that SBAG will be tilling with two, and possibly three, tractors across the reservation to meet that short window timeframe.
As noted by longtime SBAG program director Tom Cook, since its beginning in 1985, the organization has remained committed to its founding mission “to help Pine Ridge people help themselves by gardening.”
In 2017, SBAG provided gardening assistance to 1,478 children, adults and elders so that they had access to fresh, healthy vegetables and fruits, which are sparse and expensive to buy on the reservation.
In addition to providing seedlings and tilling services, SBAG also educates gardeners through its 10-week program on the local radio station in a bi-lingual format throughout its listening area on the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Rosebud reservations, as well as in Rapid City, the southern Black Hills and the panhandle of Nebraska.
Among those who have benefited from SBAG’s assistance are two Slim Buttes residents Lester and Misty who live in a FEMA trailer with eight kids, two of them preschoolers.
“We depend on the garden for food,” says Lester, adding, “The children loved the food and the experience of being in the garden.”
And, notes Tom, “The program helps them survive, and grounds the youth to the sources of life.”
In addition to the obvious benefits, Tom also points out that “A garden is a stabilizing and rewarding activity for a family in many, many cases. This feedback greatly encourages us.”
“This assistance program is essential for people to connect meaningfully with their land,” he added. “It’s popular, and despite the difficulties, works to good effect.
“Gardening is essential for those living of their lands.”