The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is sadly known as a “food desert” where fresh vegetables and fruits are scarce, and expensive when available, and even healthier processed foods such as canned vegetables can be difficult to find among the shelves stocked with potato chips and other high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar foods full of empty calories and no nutritional value.
But thanks to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, we are working to change that.
Through the dedication of our affiliate on the reservation, the Oyate Teca Project, and its director, Rose Fraser, this year, and for the past several years, budding gardeners have been learning how to transform the barren land on their property growing nothing but weeds into bountiful gardens.
With many of them showing significant surpluses this summer – even more than they can sell at Oyate Teca’s Medicine Root farmers market, give away to family members, friends and neighbors, or even preserve for themselves for the coming winter months – many of them are sharing their harvests with the less fortunate elderly on Pine Ridge.
This week, Rose and her Medicine Root gardeners, teamed up with another nonprofit organization, Generations Indigenous Ways, to provide 550 elders with grocery sacks filled with fresh produce, traditional Oglala Lakota medicines such as sage, as well as cleaning supplies.
Rose notes that the Medicine Root gardening program has had a significant impact on the entire community, not just the gardeners themselves, by alleviating the burden of having to stretch meager food budgets so far when there are so many bills to be paid, and she is very proud that there are several vegetable distribution programs popping up all over the reservation.
While there have been many challenges this year due to COVID-19, Rose’s partner in the distribution, GIW executive director Helene Gaddie recently commented to the Lakota Times, “This pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. This pandemic has allowed us to revive our Lakota ways.”
In addition, as we have been doing throughout this year since the coronavirus pandemic struck, in a matter of a few weeks we will be shipping out hundreds of emergency boxes of non-perishable food items, enough to feed a family of four for two weeks to our field office on the reservation, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home), for distribution just as the winter weather is arriving.
Also, with the realization that we cannot do this all on our own, at the start of a new school year Running Strong began advocating for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend its free meals program through December 31.
“This unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children will have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated the USDA in announcing the extension.
And while we are thrilled with all the progress being made on Pine Ridge in decreasing food insecurity on Pine Ridge, there is much more to be done and we will not rest until it not just reduced, but eliminated – ensuring that all, from infants to elders, do not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.