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Sowing Seeds of Sovereignty: Updates from the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative, Winter 2020

The Keya Wakpala Garden might have been covered with snow the past few months, but the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative (FSI) has had a busy winter nonetheless. While our office is currently closed due to COVID-19, our staff are still busy at home laying the groundwork for the upcoming garden and market seasons. This past November, we launched the Waicahya Icagapi Kte (WIK / They Will Grow into Producers) adult internship program. The internship, offered in collaboration with Dakota Rural Action, is a year-long program that offers paid, on-farm and classroom training to tribal members interested in becoming food producers. Interns worked closely with Ed Her Many Horses, the FSI Garden Manager, to help prepare the garden for winter. They’ve also been hard at work starting seedlings in the greenhouse and designing their planting plans for spring.

Seedlings taking root in our geodesic dome greenhouse at the Keya Wakpala Garden.

The program is part of the FSI’s goal to increase food and agriculture enterprises on the reservation. It runs from November through October, giving interns the chance to complete an entire season in the garden, from the initial planning stages in winter, to planting and harvesting in the spring and summer, and winterizing the garden in the fall. On-farm training is complemented by class time, where interns learn about the other necessary topics involved in running a successful business, such as managing finances and how to secure land through a home or business site.

Antelope community member Deanna Eaglefeather and her husband Carlos Jarrett shared their experience and advice for securing home and business sites with our WIK interns.

The interns were also able to accompany Her Many Horses and Michelle Haukaas, the FSI Market Manager, to the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin at the end of February. While the FSI office might be closed, our interns are still working hard from home. If you’re interested in becoming a food producer but missed out on becoming part of the first intern cohort, you still have a chance! Look out for the next round of applications when they’re released early next fall.

We are also pleased to once again be able to offer paid youth internships to four young adults this spring and summer. Our youth internship is currently on pause due to COVID-19, but we’re looking forward to having our youth interns back in the office later this spring! Youth interns will assist with finishing construction of the Wapahlatapi Unkitawapi Ospaye Oju (Our Fridge Community Youth Garden).

Interns have already helped build five raised beds, doubling the size of the garden. They began designing planting plans and started seedlings to transplant once the ground thaws. Interns also helped manage the hydroponic grow tanks at the FSI office, and assisted with setting up a compost tumbler and rain barrels for rainwater collection. The Our Fridge Garden is located in front of the FSI office, two blocks east of Wells Fargo in Mission. It is open to the community, and anyone is welcome to take what they need. We only ask that you keep in mind that there are others who need to feed themselves and their families. In our Lakota culture, we take only what is needed and leave half for our relatives.

On the left and right, youth interns work to build raised beds for the Our Fridge Garden. Center, the Our Fridge Garden in bloom last summer with Garden Manager Ed Her Many Horses and former AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Aaron Mandell.

In addition to the youth internships, we were happy to resume weekly healthy cooking classes with youth at the Boys and Girls Clubs in Rosebud, Mission, and Parmelee in January, February, and March. In March, we launched meal planning and cooking classes at Sicangu Owayawa Oti (Rosebud Dormitory) with a wide age range of students. Our team members work to incorporate indigenous ingredients and Lakota language into cooking classes. We also had the opportunity to showcase traditional ingredients at the Lakota Food Summit in Rapid City this February. Matthew Wilson, FSI Director, prepared a wild rice and hazelnut milk pudding that was enjoyed by hundreds of conference attendees.

Cooking class at the Sicangu Owayawa Oti.

The Food Sovereignty Initiative staff also enjoy sharing a meal with communities at community meetings. We do our best to make it to all twenty communities at least once a year to discuss how communities and the Initiative can best work together on community food projects. We had the chance to speak with Bull Creek, Okreek, Horse Creek, and Swift Bear community members at their meetings in February and March. If you are interested in helping facilitate community food projects in your community, don’t hesitate to message the Sicangu Community Development Corporation page on Facebook, or contact us via our website, www.sicangucdc.org. We look forward to visiting with more communities when it is safe to gather once again.

FSI Director Matte Wilson and former intern David Espinoza Jr. facilitated a roundtable discussion in Rosebud last summer to discuss the food system on the Rosebud and brainstorm ideas for community food projects.

In addition to our winter programming, the FSI is gearing up for the garden, market, and harvest seasons ahead. The Keya Wakpala Farmers’ Market, held in front of the FSI office in Mission, will now be known as the Lakota Harvest Market. We are planning to once again take the market mobile, expanding on the pilot mobile markets that were held in St. Francis and Parmelee in 2019. This year, the mobile market will visit at least eight of the reservation's twenty communities. We received a grant to purchase a cargo van, which will be retrofitted to store produce as well as non-perishable groceries. We plan to launch the mobile markets in late spring.

We are building off of wild harvesting excursions that our team members led for summer interns in 2019, and will be hosting wild harvesting events open to the community throughout the summer. We will also be hosting cooking demonstrations, skill shares (such as canning and other types of food preservation classes), and buffalo harvests. In March, Antelope community member Levi Eaglefeather, along with his daughter Deanna Eaglefeather, led a tree-tapping skill share where our WIK interns had the chance to learn how to tap box elders for sap to boil down into syrup. We are always looking to expand our partnerships, so if you or someone you know has knowledge about wild plants and is interested in leading a wild harvesting event in your community, reach out to the FSI Programs Manager, Hollis Vanderlinden, at hollis.vanderlinden@sicangucorp.com.

Tree tapping box elders in a grove near Old Ring Thunder with WIK interns in early March.

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