EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. – Staff and volunteers at the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, S.D., are eagerly anticipating the new growing season in the 2.5-acre Toka Win naturally grown garden. Each year, volunteers, children and community participants work to provide nutritious foods to the community while learning to respect the land, the water and the plants.
Organic certification, rain-water harvesting, drip-irrigation and enhanced food preservation efforts are all goals on CRYP’s list for this special piece of earth.
“The garden has led us to a general understanding of how sustainability really works,” said Alexandra Meador, CRYP’s youth programs director. “We’re striving to apply those principles to all of our programs and services.”
Harvested produce is incorporated into meals at the Cheyenne River Elderly Nutrition Center and The Main. Thanks to CRYP’s canning and food preservation efforts, the recently refurbished Cokata Wiconi Gift Shop now offers CRYP pickles, apple butter, jelly, salsa, jalapeños and banana peppers, with homemade chokecherry syrup in the not-too-distant future. The shop also sells crafts from local artists, History Wall posters and CRYP gear.
During the harvest season, produce is sold three times a week through The Main Farmer’s Market. Last season the garden yielded hand-planted sweet corn, yellow and butternut squash, cucumber, zucchini, red and white onions, sweet/candy onions, celebrity and roma tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, garden salsa peppers, a variety of hot peppers, rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries. The dedicated herb garden featured basil, dill, oregano, parsley and chives.
The Main is planning to host its popular Garden Club again this summer. Every Tuesday and Thursday, youth participants will join the Garden Club leader and other volunteers in the garden to assist with planting, watering, weeding and harvesting. After each 45-minute garden session, they will add entries to individual garden journals. Project leaders will choose a “Gardener of the Week” each Friday.
Also on the schedule for this season is the Recyclable Arts Program, which was started last year in conjunction with Garden Club. In this program, volunteers and children use all available recyclable materials in arts and crafts projects, learning about the environment in the process.
“Last summer, for example, we saved popcorn boxes and made them into treasure chests,” Meador explained. “We reused cans and made them into flower vases, and we used milk jugs to make a garden tool carrier. We have a special recyclable craft closet in which we keep all of the items. … things like bottles, cans, plastic jugs, canisters and cereal boxes. It’s a great way for us to ‘go green,’ since there isn’t a recycling program on the reservation.
“We’re teaching the kids how to help take care of the earth. Our work in the garden has influenced our Wellness and Health programs, the creation of the Recyclable Arts Program and our general approach to providing services.”
Thanks to generous contributions from Citi, Heifer International and a number of private donors, CRYP was able to purchase a tractor and corn planter for the garden.
“These will help tremendously with the planting this year,” Meador said. “Our primary goal this season is to further develop the acreage with the use of the tractor – hopefully planting more. We also plan to incorporate the teens into the garden program, which will be an extension of Wiyaka Chasing Hawk’s Wellness Department.”
And the fundraising continues. Oprah’s Angel Network, through Running Strong for American Indian Youth, has contributed $4,000 to help the youth project obtain additional equipment and supplies that will make the garden work less labor-intensive and help CRYP move even closer to its sustainable-systems goals.
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, visit the youth project on Facebook; group members will receive regular updates through the site.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River Reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.