EAGLE BUTTE, SD — It might be the middle of winter, but that doesn’t mean the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Garden Club is hibernating. To the contrary, the nonprofit organization’s Garden Club starts its winter-spring session at 4:30 p.m. today; open to the 4- to 12-year-olds who attend programming at The Main youth center, this session of Garden Club will run every Monday for eight weeks, concluding on Apr. 2.
In this session, the children will prepare seed pots and plant bush beans and lettuce. Under the direction of Youth Programs Assistant Floyd Braun, they’ll learn to place grow lights and will be responsible for watering their seeds weekly; on Feb. 25, they’ll assess the seedlings’ growth and feed the fledging plants.
They’ll continue monitoring growth in March, trimming and fertilizing the plants as needed. Harvest time is scheduled for Mar. 25, and on Apr. 2, the young students will conclude the winter-spring Garden Club session with a special class that will teach them how to dry lavender.
“This is such an important opportunity for our younger children,” says Jerica Widow, CRYP’s youth programs director. “As they take care of these young plants and harvest this nutritious food, they’re learning about sustainable agriculture. They’re also practicing traditional Lakota life ways and values, and strengthening their personal connection to the earth and to their culture.”
The Main’s Garden Club has been part of CRYP’s regular youth programming for more than a decade. Once the growing season begins on the South Dakota prairie, the children will be out in the 2.5-acre, organic Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden on a weekly basis, under the direction of the head gardener (the seasonal head gardener position is currently open; visit lakotayouth.org/about/employment-opportunities/ to learn more.)
“The children help us plant, care for and harvest our crops, which produce thousands of pounds of food for our Native Food Sovereignty and Social Enterprise initiatives here at CRYP,” says Julie Garreau, executive director. “We incorporate our fresh, nutritious produce into meals and snacks at both the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center and The Main, as well as into menu items at our farm-to-table Keya (Turtle) Cafe. We also process it, which allows us to sell jams, jellies, salsas and other products through our Keya Gift Shop.”
What’s more, as the children enjoy time outdoors in the garden and learn a variety of new skills, they’re also embarking on a journey that will allow them to participate in CRYP’s innovative internship program at Cokata Wiconi. Once children turn 13, they can apply for teen internships in Native Food Sovereignty, Social Enterprise, Wellness, and Indigenous Foods & Cooking, all of which give them even more educational opportunities and hands-on experience.
“Garden Club is a significant program at The Main, because we understand how important it is to start working with our kids when they’re small,” Garreau says. “We’re giving them opportunities to explore new interests and ideas, which will open even more doors to them as they transition to Cokata Wiconi and their teen years.”
In many ways, Winyan Toka Win is the beating heart of CRYP’s Eagle Butte campus. It has been nominated for several awards in the last decade, including the Garden Supply Company’s Garden Crusaders Award of 2005-2006. Community and youth programming for all ages is made possible with support from Running Strong for American Indian Youth and the J.R. Albert Foundation, as well as through generous contributions from individual supporters across the country.