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Sustainable Agriculture

Reservation Gardeners Earn First Profits at Fledgling Market

Residents of the Rosebud Lakota Reservation in south-central South Dakota, facing more hurdles than most growers, nonetheless have embraced family gardening. With help from three SARE grants, many beginning Rosebud gardeners not only grow enough food for their families and neighbors, but also supply a budding gardeners’ market in a rural area devoid of many healthy food choices.

Overcoming poor soils, a lack of agricultural traditions, and an average annual rainfall of just 12 inches—as well as widespread diabetes and poverty—the Lakota gardeners did well enough in 2003 to earn a $10,000 profit. The reservation’s community health care providers and Ann Krush at the reservation’s Center for Permaculture as Native Science in Mission, SD, recognized that quality of life had deteriorated. They and community members were galvanized to do something. “Diabetes is a terrible problem here,” said Krush, the SARE project coordinator. “So we started encouraging food gardens. Getting out in the fresh air is good, but exercise and eating the fresh food you grow is even better.”

With the first two grants, Krush and community leaders helped spread knowledge about gardening and bee-keeping through informal get-togethers. Intended to help novice growers establish gardens, the SARE funding was more successful than they could have hoped. “Ten years ago, you never saw a garden,” Krush said. “Now it’s common and accepted. Now it means doing something healthy for your family, your community, your elders.”

The harvest from several families’ table-sized garden plots, developed with help from SARE-funded program assistants from within the community, was bountiful enough to share with neighbors. To spread the gardeners’ success to the rest of the community, Krush and others received a third grant to organize the gardeners’ market at the reservation’s traffic light, the only fresh market for hundreds of miles. Eight vendors served the market in 2003, earning their first profits.

From a background of poor nutrition, partly because of scarce food options, many kids now choose fresh fruit and vegetables over junk food. Locally grown fruit, honey, and vegetables became part of Elderly Nutrition, a federal program that provides food for seniors who need it. And the Center for Permaculture as Native Science buys overflow from the Rosebud gardeners to distribute to the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program—thus helping to establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.

Editor's note: The Center for Permaculture as Native Science in Mission, SD, closed in 2004, therefore discontinued work on its SARE-funded projects.


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