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Thanks to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth® and the hard work of the Oyate Teca Project’s staff, thousands of residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota had access to fresh vegetables and fruits, a scarce commodity on the reservation, and expensive when available.
Since January, the participants in The Oyate Teca Project’s gardening program worked hard all year long to grow more than 20 tons of fresh produce for their families, friends and neighbors, as well as sell their surplus at the farmers market.
Program director Rose Fraser noted that despite the largest number of participants ever in the intensive nine-month gardening class, the amount of produce grown was down from the previous year’s record high.
Considering the circumstances, that was to be expected as Mother Nature was not so cooperative this year, but Rose and her budding gardeners persevered and it could have been worse.
“We were hoping for a slight increase from last year’s 25 tons, but we were hit with summer hail storms and flooding that completely damaged eight gardens,” explained Rose.
Rose reported that on October 3, they had their last vegetable distribution of the year with 103 bags distributed. Each bag contained 15 pounds of produce including tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, onions and acorn squash.
In addition, Oyate Teca held its first Running Strong for American Indian Youth® free pumpkin distribution event, giving out 403 pumpkins (half of which were grown by Rose’s own 11-year-old granddaughter) and the other half grown by a 16-year-old girl “a couple of the youngest entrepreneurs” on the reservation, said Rose.
“We received many thanks and gratitude from the gardening class, many didn’t want the program to end,” she said. “Others talked about coming back because they feel they missed a few lessons which would have been beneficial to them, like harvesting, and many wanted more information on how to harvest and how to keep accurate records of their harvest.
“One lady talked about how she was supposed to provide a meal for her college class, so she went to her garden to get vegetables she needed and thought that was cool to just go outside and pick what she needed,” Rose added. “It was her first time gardening and she was amazed and said she will be back.”
And as many of the gardeners grow much more than they can use themselves, or even give away to family members, friends and neighbors, several participated in the Medicine Root farmers market selling their surplus.
“One of the gardeners was able to earn enough money to put a down payment on a vehicle,” said Rose.
This year’s gardening program finished up on with a graduation ceremony on October 17 with 43 participants, and with January fast approaching Rose is already busy preparing for her next class of “budding” gardeners.
Pine Ridge is what is known as a “food desert” defined by the Department of Agriculture as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.”
In rural areas such as Pine Ridge, a food desert is a place where the nearest grocery store is more than 10 miles away, and for many residents of the reservation a grocery store may be much further.
But thanks to supporters of Running Strong like you, Rose, and all those helping out on Pine Ridge that’s changing for thousands of residents of the reservation who will be able to eat healthier, all summer long and throughout the fall and winter.
“So proud of the staff, students and volunteers who helped planted, tilled, raked and weeded,” says Rose.