Due to many complicating factors, including remoteness and geographic isolation, many Native American communities on reservations live without consistent access to high-quality grocery stores and fresh fruits and vegetables. As a result, food scarcity, obesity, and diabetes have become epidemics in Indian Country.
Activists and leaders want Indigenous communities to have more control over their food supply. This overwhelming need to gain food sovereignty is why Running Strong is so dedicated to the success of our food programs, which focus on sustainability and self-sufficiency.
Our organic gardens and food programs strive to tackle malnutrition by providing healthy meals and fresh produce to Native American children and their families. We help to establish community gardens, household gardens, and communal greenhouse programs. We also integrate educational and cultural aspects, teaching the importance of healthy eating, how to improve food choices, and how to plant traditional gardens. Our efforts have resulted in many of our program children eating healthier and more often due to the increased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Medicine Root Gardening Program is a 9-month-long course that teaches Native American families on the Pine Ridge Reservation how to successfully plan, plot, and plant organic home gardens.
These organic home gardens not only feed a family and teach children healthy eating habits, but they also provide an opportunity for seasonal income by selling surplus produce at the local farmer’s market or canning for the winter. The Medicine Root Gardening Program also provides accounting lessons to help these families plan.
The Slim Buttes Agricultural Program (SBAG) is a community-based organic gardening project with the goals of increasing local food production, improving the nutritional quality of food, and promoting self-reliance among the Oglala Lakota.
It provides free soil preparation, seedlings, and other gardening assistance to families across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Families can sign up to host a garden and with the support of SBAG, begin growing their food while also developing an active lifestyle from gardening.
Each year, SBAG assists with over 400 gardens on the Pine Ridge Reservation by tilling farming plots, delivering seedlings, distributing seed packages, and installing more than nine miles of irrigation systems.
These gardens produce tomatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, beans, melons, peppers, lettuce, spinach, squash, artichokes, and corn – and create sustainability, better nutrition, better health, and more self-sufficiency for the community.
The program increases access to live foods, combats food insecurity, and furthers the self-development of the people by providing appropriate assistance to the families where they live.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is the second-largest reservation in the U.S. – more than 2.8 million acres, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. This makes traveling to buy fresh produce a daunting and costly task for many.
Even the local farmers market, operated by our partner the Oyate Teca Project, can prove inaccessible for some Pine Ridge residents. So, we decided that if even a few cannot come, we will bring the market to them.
That’s why, in the summer of 2022, the Medicine Root Farmers Market began operating a mobile market.
A small Chevy bus is specially outfitted with a generator, refrigeration, freezer, shelving, and air conditioning. It makes regularly scheduled stops around the reservation so that residents can purchase fresh produce each week, including prioritizing homes of elders. Sometimes, it also offers pantry items such as pickles and relish. In addition, last summer, Running Strong made distributions of fresh produce bags to families who could not afford to buy them at the markets, even with the relatively modest prices.
The mobile market is qualified to accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards that allow SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants to buy healthy, fresh foods instead of high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar, highly processed food that is much more readily available on the reservation.