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Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Garden Evolving Into Micro Farm

The two-acre Winyan Toka Win Garden, started in 1999, has become a micro farm with a recently installed irrigation system and new planting design.
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When the Cheyenne River Youth Project started its organic garden in 1999, staff at the 26-year-old nonprofit would never have guessed where the little garden would take them.

The two-acre Winyan Toka Win—or “Leading Lady”—garden is the heart of the youth project, and is becoming a micro farm. Sustainable agriculture at the youth project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota supports nutritious meals and snacks at the main youth center for 4 to 12 year olds and at the Cokata Wiconi Teen Center. The garden also provides fresh ingredients for the farm-to-table Keya Café, merchandise for the Keya Gift Shop, and seasonal Leading Lady Farmers Market. To continue with the garden’s success, CRYP has invested in a new irrigation system, a garden redesign, and a composting system.

Cheyenne River Youth Project

Khalid Garreau cooks with freshly harvested vegetables at the Cheyenne River Youth Project kitchen.

Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, hopes the new planting areas and water system will increase yields by 50 percent, and increase outdoor classroom use by teen interns who want to become gardeners and farmers.

Our garden is now the size of a community garden or micro farm operation,” Garreau said in a press release. “By providing valuable education and real-life work experience, our operation hopefully will encourage self-sufficiency on the Cheyenne River reservation, and empower the next generation to rely on their own abilities and on the land. We strive to achieve real food sovereignty, security and safety for our communities.”

Ethnobotanist Steven Bond helped CRYP design the new irrigation system, made possible by a USDA Community Facilities Grant, and develop the new garden layout.

The irrigation system can be operated remotely or manually. “Each valve in our system is self-contained, with features that are usually found only in the highest-end golf courses,” Garreau said. “We combined the needs of a farm operation with the versatility of a turf grass operation.”

There are even moisture sensors, so plants are only watered when they need to be watered. This way, nothing is wasted.

Cheyenne River Youth Project

Guided by traditional and spiritual principles, the Cheyenne River Youth Project has incorporated the traditional Lakota values of generosity, spirituality, wisdom, respect, courage, honesty and patience into the development of its 2-acre, naturally grown, pesticide-free Winyan Toka Win “Leading Lady” in the Lakota language) garden.

The newly redesigned layout features 202 beds and six planting zones, and it’s an all hand-farmed operation. So far, the team has planted radishes, lettuce, squash, carrots, beets, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, several pepper varieties, strawberries, and asparagus.

“We have more to plant as weather permits. We have been dealing with an overabundance of water this year, and dealing with soil inversions that happen over time,” said Constantine Raether, CRYP’s sustainable agriculture manager. He said CRYP would also be composting more.

To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project, visit LakotaYouth.org.