in search of wild turnips

In Search of Wild Turnips is a photoessay and narrative project that explores Lakota foodways, past and present. After a 2013 trip to the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, the course of my academic and professional career changed. I began working for the not-for-profit Simply Smiles in April 2014 on the Reservation and was hired to focus on developing sustainable food projects, including a massive community garden, composting system, and weekly gardening classes (see section below for an overview of the La Plant Grows Its Own Food! initiative). The main photo essay - "In Search of Wild Turnips" - is the culmination of my graduate capstone project. This project and, well, life path was and remains an experience in real-time anthropology, journalism and activism. As a journalist, my initial involvement in this narrative was odd. It went against my natural instinct to remain an objective, impartial observer - my opinions do not and should not matter. But, when serving as both a student of or visitor to a new culture and working as a teacher of sustainable food production within the Lakota town of La Plant, I took a chance to realize that my perspective does matter. 

A sought-after gift: A bundle of the elusive, wild turnip. (A.Gross, June 2014) 

A sought-after gift: A bundle of the elusive, wild turnip. (A.Gross, June 2014) 

This conclusion is not entirely unique. In his TED Talk about his experiences of living and working on the Pine Ridge Reservation, acclaimed photographer and activist Aaron Huey describes it this way:  

Is any of this your responsibility today? I have been told that there must be something we can do. There must be some call to action. Because for so long I've been standing on the sidelines content to be a witness, just taking photographs. Because the solution seems too far in the past, I need nothing short of a time machine to access them.

Huey boldly decided to use his talents as a mode and platform for action on Pine Ridge. His words inspired my own call to do something.

I could have remained a passive graduate student, simply writing a research paper, allowing it to be filed away in a library, and continue to work for a non-profit on food programs. Yet, this would be failing to link the intertwined elements of both research and action. Failing to see this connection would be doing a disservice to my new Lakota friends and their food histories. What's happening in the town of La Plant is a unique opportunity to reclaim and redefine a food system.  My work is not meant to speak for the town of La Plant nor the Lakota people of the Reservation, but it gives them a needed voice and platform. 

For the survival of indigenous food traditions, especially the Lakota, my project, research and words are meant to be shared and expanded to include further action and advocacy efforts. In a time of plenty when it seems the local/good/fair/just food movement is becoming more mainstream, it is vital that underrepresented voices, peoples and populations are sought out and continually invited to the table. And, not as spectacles or spectators but, rather, as actors in the food movement. 

The final reflective narrative and photoessay In Search of Wild Turnips is an attempt to cast light on the food culture of La Plant, provide a glimpse into life as a Lakota of the CRST Reservation, and a medium for individuals from this bioregion to begin to preserve and tell their cultural and individual food histories and stories.


We're glad you've arrived!: The La Plant community garden garden gate displays both the masculine and feminine Lakota phrases for "welcome." By providing both the feminine and masculine terms, one elder suggests it brings balance and protection to the growing space. (A.Gross, July 2014)

We're glad you've arrived!: The La Plant community garden garden gate displays both the masculine and feminine Lakota phrases for "welcome." By providing both the feminine and masculine terms, one elder suggests it brings balance and protection to the growing space. (A.Gross, July 2014)


La Plant Grows Its Own Food!

A collaborative food and garden program of the town of La Plant and Simply Smiles, Inc. Learn more about these efforts here. See the progress made in the town's garden during a five-month span in 2014!


Native foodways Resources

Learn more about indigenous food rights and issues from these organization, initiatives and programs:

Beans growing in the La Plant community garden (A.Gross, June 2014)

Beans growing in the La Plant community garden (A.Gross, June 2014)


Comments? Ideas? Want to share resources and connect?