April is National Garden Month

April is National Garden Month, and many of our partners are committed to supporting a healthier lifestyle through gardens and other grant-funded or community-based projects this month and year-round. For example, the New Hope House Shelter and Garden in Eagle Butte, South Dakota recently completed a PWNA canning class led by Inyan Eagle Elk and supported by Shelter Director Daniel Butcher and Therapeutic Garden Coordinator Austin Red Dog. In this class, participants learned to preserve the food that will be grown in the shelter’s garden later this summer.

The New Hope House Shelter & Garden is considerably new to gardening, just one year ago turning much of their open lot into a haven of raised garden beds for squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, and more. The regard shown to Unci Maka (Mother Earth) has in the first harvest produced positive results for plants and people. Austin reflected on their first year. “The residents themselves really surprised me — when I was at ceremony, they really took to it. They were out there every morning checking on the plants, watering them, and making sure they were okay. I feel like the plants really gave them compassion, because the residents cared for them from the time they were seeds. They helped give the plants life to grow, and that’s what we really hoped would be part of the impact.”

“Medicinal is another aspect of the gardening. I see this happening with other tribes. Indigenous foods are powerful; we have buffalo berries that are a super food, wild grapes, rosehips, currants, and June berries. Some of these foods are becoming scarcer, and we want to make these plentiful.”

The first year of the New Hope Shelter garden was not without hiccups. They tried to grow turnips, which they now know have a 99% fail rate. They also know that temperature, zone, and elevation are factors that need to be considered for planting. Melons and corn, they said, “crashed – we need to plant earlier. The good news was that the beans, okra, cherry tomatoes did really well.”

Daniel, Austin and crew stay motivated knowing that “the learning and sharing of ideas with the community about food and aspects for our bodies is healthy both mentally and physically.” Daniel recently posted this garden video on the shelter’s Facebook page.

Austin is optimistic about the future. “With consistency, as long as someone is gardening, there are always people that want to learn.” He shared that the shelter’s location has helped catch the attention of community members, said that people walk by and ask about the plants and the shelter team gives them samples so they can taste the difference from what they may get at the store. Austin emphasizes, “If enough people grow their own food, show more respect for mother earth, recognize that everything — the weeds, plants, animals — plays a part, and take care of the plants, the plants will take care of us!”

Inyan also knows gardening is a critical factor in turning around the health implications plaguing tribes with poor food access. “Gardening is more important in native communities. People go to stores, shop for their food, money is exchanged for whatever food we choose, and we end up viewing food as a luxury as opposed to medicine that nourishes us.”

Although Inyan doesn’t plant a garden, he sees his role as sharing knowledge with others who want to learn. “The information belongs to all of us and sharing it — that’s my role.” Over the past year, Inyan has been leading our PWNA canning and cooking classes to better involve community cooks in healthier eating. “If only everyone realized how much work and love is attached to gardening, the connection to the land, preserving food, and practicing and partaking of the medicines. Our people invented those ways and many of those stories are gone, but as we get wiser with food, we will get those ways back.”

Inyan’s dream is that “everyone should be in the dirt — every spring, be up in the morning picking weeds and contributing, and training kids to grow food to feed themselves. My grandparents always talked about this, and it’s up to us to spark it. Indigenous people feeding each other and eating with each other — those are our ways.”

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