Sowing Seeds for a Brighter Future

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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. At CRYP, we believe that integrating these values allows our garden to make a meaningful contribution to our larger Cheyenne River community, one that is imbued with and based on the values and principles traditionally practiced by Lakota people. The Winyan Toka Win garden is built upon a unique combination of spiritual, human and land-based resources. It is sustained by the participation and energies of countless volunteers, staff members and children.

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Our children are involved in every aspect of the garden, from planting and weeding to watering and harvesting. They also participate in weekly classes addressing various topics, such as proper techniques and traditional agricultural methods. For the last few years, our garden programming has incorporated a native practice called “Three Sisters Planting” (corn, beans, squash) into the garden layout. This method not only prevents soil depletion, but also improves nutrient content, which is part of the practice of sustainable farming. The 2-acre garden produces several varieties of corn, peppers, squash, melons, beans and berries, along with staples like carrots, beets, turnips, onions and greens, which are shared between CRYP, our youth participants, several other community organizations and many local families.

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One of the most important aspects of the garden program is to foster community participation so the value of gardening can be taught from generation to generation. Community volunteers assist with instructing the children, they are involved with overall maintenance of the garden and grounds, and they provide valuable advice on planting, harvesting and traditional practices. In addition, CRYP hosts “Garden Walks” in which community members can monitor our progress and receive updates about the youth activities taking place in the garden. During summer 2013, CRYP significantly expanded its sustainable agriculture programs: We have already hired a summer garden coordinator and 10 youth interns, we’ve added 10 community-vendor stands to our weekly Leading Lady Farmers Market, and we launched its first community canning classes. In addition, the youth project is seeking to hire a sustainable agriculture coordinator, and we are developing a greenhouse horticulture program, which will extend our growing season here in South Dakota and provide an exciting venue for additional community workshops and classes.

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The Winyan Toka Win garden has been nominated for several awards, including the Garden Supply Company’s Garden Crusaders Award of 2005-2006. It also is supported by a variety of partners, including the Northwest Area Foundation and Running Strong for American Indian Youth. And the garden program will continue to grow, thanks to a capacity grant from the USDA and a generous contribution from an anonymous donor. With these funds, CRYP is purchasing an array of much-needed new equipment, including a freezer, drip irrigation system, flatbed trailer, produce scale, wheel barrow, commercial food processor and miscellaneous supplies such as tillers, carts, pots, pans, lids and grippers. The future is looking very bright for Winyan Toka Win.