Running Strong and Food Sovereignty: Organic Home Gardens, Summer Youth Feeding Program, Smart Sacks, and more

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At Running Strong for American Indian Youth® alleviating food insecurity throughout Indian Country, particularly on reservations such as the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Sioux Indian reservations, is among our primary missions.

That includes supporting gardening programs, such as the Oyate Teca Project’s Medicine Root Gardening program and the Slim Buttes Agricultural Development program, both on Pine Ridge, which is described as a “food desert” where access to fresh, healthy produce is extremely limited, and expensive when available.

In addition, throughout the year we ship thousands of boxes of supplemental food items to our partners to help Native families and elders stretch their food budgets for the month and help ensure they don’t go hungry when their cupboards are bare. During the holiday season, we provide our partners, as well as our field office on Pine Ridge, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home), with thousands of boxes of frozen turkeys with all the trimmings ensuring that thousands of Native American families can enjoy traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

For schoolchildren, throughout the school year we provide hundreds of students with “Smart Sacks” filled with nonperishable food items at the end of each week to ensure that they (and their family members) don’t go hungry over the weekends when they aren’t receiving the meals they receive at school on school days.

And, right now as the academic year has come to a close, we are providing support for the Summer Food Service Program operating at three locations on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation which provides hundreds of meals each weekday to any child and youth under 18 who comes in for a free breakfast or lunch.

Running Strong spokesperson and Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills recently addressed (via Zoom) the budding gardeners participating in this year’s Medicine Root gardening program who are learning how to establish and maintain vegetable and fruit gardens in their own backyards.

Billy credited healthy eating, and particularly fresh vegetables, as being instrumental in his winning his gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and setting world records in the 10,000-meter run.

“The most significant factor was learning of proper nutrition that could empower my body…and how those vegetables can empower the body, mind and spirit and help me to pursue a dream.”

Noting that he and his wife, Pat, started their own “little garden” during the pandemic where they’re growing their own peppers, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and more, Billy told the class that “gardening has become a major part of our life.

“Those of you attending this class today…you’re getting knowledge that can not only empower you and your family and it can empower us as tribal nations throughout the United States and North America and it can overcome many of the obstacles that have been put upon us… and we can overcome those simply by empowering our mind, pursing our dream and growing vegetables plays a major major sacred role.”

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