OTKK Garden Lesson 3-25

1 Medicine Root Garden Program: 3 Levels of Gardening Courses, 9 Months of Classrooms and hands-on instruction, over 50 Gardening students, and over 50,000 pounds of produce grown on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

In 2023, the Medicine Root Garden program, operated by our partner on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Oyate Teca Project, trained or assisted 62 individuals ages 5 to 57 in its mission to “help teach our people how to feed themselves by teaching them how to grow their food,” reported director Rose Fraser.

Impact by the numbers!  The program served people in 13 communities in all nine districts of the vast reservation on the Great Plains of South Dakota, where the growing season is short. In 2023 alone, 41,752 pounds of fresh produce were harvested and distributed throughout the community!

A look at the Curriculum:  For 2024, Rose and her staff were busy for weeks preparing for the start of classes for a new cohort of beginning, intermediate, and advanced gardening students, which kicked off on February 6, even though the official start of the growing season on Pine Ridge isn’t until late May following the expected last frost of the season.

Through February, beginning students attended weekly classes each Tuesday evening at the Oyate Ta Kola Ku Community Center, where they:  1. received an introduction to the Mittleider Method of Gardening and the differences between it and traditional gardening, 2. worked on developing their garden plan, including soil beds and grow boxes, and created a garden layout of their area to be planted; and 4) were provided information on making soil blocks and seed starting.

In March, they covered topics such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting, automated watering systems (such as drip-line watering), understanding fertilizers and how to mix them, and plant deficiencies and diseases and how to correct them.

The first class in April is on insect recognition and controlling pests. It is also the last of the indoor classes, as outdoor classes start on April 9 with hands-on lessons, including setting up a grow bed in the Oyate Teca Project’s hoop houses (similar to a greenhouse) and direct sowing cold-weather crops. Other classes in April include extending the growing season, growing vegetables vertically, transplanting starters, and direct sowing seeds.

Although the classroom sessions end by May, throughout the growing season, the gardening students can receive continuing support, and participants can attend a garden tour where they visit their classmates’ gardens in mid-July.

Growing more than produce:  In addition, through the gardening program, interested individuals can learn how to become seasonal entrepreneurs and generate income through sales of their surplus vegetables and fruits, possibly through the Medicine Root Farmers Market.

And at the end of the summer, the Oyate Teca Project offers classes in methods of food preservation such as canning, ensuring they can enjoy the fruits of their labors long into the winter months.

Rose notes that the program operates from February to October, with 16-18 weeks of indoor classes, six weeks of hands-on demonstration, five weeks of food preservation, and three weeks of business classes.

The goals for the Medicine Root Garden program in 2024 include increasing the number of participants in its beginner’s class and reaching its goal of 50,000 pounds of produce, encouraging other districts to create a gardening program in their areas, and growing enough produce to supply local businesses.

“We like to see gardens in everyone’s homes!” says Rose. “Families feeding themselves eliminate some of the negative barriers about our people.

“We see more and more people wanting to garden,” she adds, “wanting to learn what is going into their food.

“We seed pride in learning a skill our ancestors have done in the past.”

And the result?

“Through newly acquired skills, people are eating healthier, staying more active, and storing food to last them through the winter.”

Help American Indian Youth by Donating Today!