On the vast Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the second-largest reservation in the U.S. at more than 2.8 million acres and larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, getting to where fresh produce is available is a daunting, and costly, task for many.
And that includes the farmers market operated by our partner there, the Oyate Teca Project, centrally-located near the small town of Kyle in the heart of the reservation, which sells produce it – and some of the community gardeners it assists through its Medicine Root Gardening Program – grow locally.
So, we decided that if Pine Ridge residents cannot get to the market, we will bring the market to them.
That’s why, this year for the first time the Medicine Root Farmers Market will also soon be operating a mobile market in the communities of Manderson, about 35 miles from the Oyate Teca Project’s headquarters in the southwest region of the reservation, Allen, Sharps Corner, the Village of Pine Ridge and hopefully eventually further east, such as to Wanblee about 30 miles away.
At the mobile markets, community members will have convenient access to high quality, just-picked fresh vegetables and fruits at affordable prices, along with possibly pantry items such as pickles and relish.
The small Chevy bus has been specially outfitted with a generator, refrigeration and freezer, shelving and air conditioning to make regularly scheduled stops in the various communities so residents can count on purchasing fresh produce each week.
Oyate Teca Project director Rose Fraser said that the mobile market will be filled to the brim with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits including tomatoes, peppers (green, red and jalapeno), onions, beets, carrots, green beans, zucchini and more.
Much of this produce is being grown by participants in the Medicine Root gardening classes – the majority of them first-time gardeners – who will reap the benefits of selling their surplus through the market operations which Rose estimated could be as much as $100 each week, a tidy sum they can spend for household and family expenses, such as back-to-school items for their children with a new school year just around the corner.
We are also grateful for the new partnership between Running Strong for American Indian Youth® and the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) which enabled us to purchase the mobile market vehicle, along with our supporters who are helping to fund its operations.
“Mobilizing this program addresses issues by not only by aiding the community during these devastating times, but safeguards our cultural integrity,” says Rose.
She noted that in the Village of Pine Ridge (the most populous community in Oglala Lakota County at around 3,100) off-reservation produce vendors there have enjoyed a virtual monopoly where they can charge exorbitant prices for poor quality produce, but when the Medicine Root mobile market arrives to sell locally grown vegetables and fruits, that will all change.
Rose also pointed that that the Medicine Root farmers and mobile markets are qualified to accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards that allows 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.
This results in a true win-win for both the residents eager for healthy and affordable fresh foods and the nearly three dozen family gardeners who will be able to have a ready market for the surplus vegetables and fruits they will grow this summer and into the fall.