Although it’s January and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation the low temperatures will remain in the teens for the next several weeks and the ground will remain frozen, gardening on the reservation has begun at the Oyate Teca Project in anticipation of the warm spring and summer weather.
On January 9, Oyate Teca, the newest field office of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, hosted an informational community meeting explaining everything they would be teaching to Pine Ridge families interested in growing their own organic vegetables and fruits, reported executive director Rose Fraser.
“We had a record-breaking attendance of 32 participants, doubling the attendance from last year,” Rose told us, adding that attendance at the first class on January 23 was 50 people who came to learn the six steps to successful gardening, and six elements to control. “These are foundational teachings.”
“I panicked there for a minute running to the kitchen to see if we had enough food” (as the classes include an evening meal), she said. “Luckily, we had enough food to feed everyone.”
Rose described them as “an awesome group of people” from the communities of Wanblee, Calico, Pine Ridge, Batesland, Manderson, Martin, Oglala, Porcupine, Allen and Kyle with some driving as far as 70 miles round trip to attend.
Enrollment will remain open through February 6 so the number could increase even more, which Rose admits makes her a bit nervous about the success of the program.
“I’m worried about funding…where the money is going to come from to help pay for the incentives for participants and basically doubling up on office supplies, food and most of all space,” she said, wondering if she may have to rent a larger space to accommodate them all.
The gardening program is quite a commitment for Rose, the Oyate Teca staff and for the participants who will be attending the two-hour sessions for the next nine months, from before any seeds are planted until after the final tomato, squash and potato is harvested for the season.
Participants will attend 16 indoor classes focusing on several different gardening techniques including row gardening, container gardening, square-foot gardening, hay bale gardening and utilizing what is known as the Mittleider gardening method.
Each gardening technique contains a series of lessons including soil nutrition, soil deficiencies, organic fertilizers, garden planning, planting schedules, garden layout, as well as providing information as to how to plant for their family, and how to pursue potential season income selling their surplus at the Oyate Teca Farmers Market.
Once the growing season begins following the last frost in May, participants will take part in several outdoor classes in Oyate Teca’s community garden led by master gardener Chet Marks who has more than four decades of gardening experience. There they will gain hands-on experience to utilize in their own gardens.
Included in the gardening program are classes in preservation, where they will learn how to can their vegetables and fruits using both the water bath method and using a pressure canner. They also learn both traditional and current dehydration methods.
For those interested in selling produce at the farmers market, entrepreneurial classes in food handling, financial literacy, business planning, GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) and CPR/first aid are also offered.
“All of these classes have proven to be effective,” says Rose, who has hosted the gardening classes for the past several years.
Participants are required to attend the mandatory classes and receive incentives such as rakes, shovels, stirrup hoes, garden forks, hand tools and gloves and hats. In addition, they receive seeds, soil and trays to start their seedlings, organic fertilizers and a sprayer.
The learning materials and resources will be available to them on a flash drive, binders, day planners that they can all keep together in a Running Strong backpack.
“Tools needed for success as we call them,” she said.
Through the years Rose has seen the success of dozens of families who came to their first class with nothing but a desire to transform a portion of their yard into a garden and throughout the season become filled with more vegetables and fruits than their family can consume which they sell at the farmers market for much-needed extra income, preserve to have on hand for the long winter months, and simply just to give a portion of their bounty away to family and friends.
“Despite being nervous about the funding, I am very excited to see the tremendous growth for our gardening program and anxious for families to grow and eat the vegetables the grew,” says Rose.