South Dakota

Scratching the surface: the harvest so far in La Plant

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.
— Robin Wall Kimmerer, from "Braiding Sweetgrass"

Now that the major infrastructure projects are complete, this growing season in the garden (as part of the La Plant Grows Its Own Food! healthy living initiative of Simply Smiles) is all about production. We've already held two farmstands out of the nine slated for this 2016 season! It's also the first time where I've felt most confident on this whole growing thing out here because, well, things are actually growing and growing really well! And, it's not just the day-to-day responsibilities and routine required, but, rather, a deeper understanding the rhythm of the seasons, really feeling the soil, and getting a solid sense of this place.

This is, of course, just scratching the surface (pun intended). But, for now, here are a few snapshots of the harvest so far, which is proving to be the most productive we've had in three years!

Snapshots & musings from South Dakota: June-early July 2016

If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become.
— Robin Wall Kimmerer, from "Braiding Sweetgrass"

I'm currently reading Kimmerer's work, "Braiding Sweetgrass," and I'm finding that her words are so timely and so needed. The upswing in chaos, violence, and hate that we've seen in recent weeks will not disappear because of one small garden on a remote part of an isolated reservation. But, I'm not willing to accept that hatred and violence should be the basis of the headlines or that small acts of peace should go unnoticed.

Fortunately, the La Plant garden allows me to embrace the place and space and adds a richness to my life, as I hope it does for the kids of La Plant. Sorry if this sounds too white person-myopic - it's not meant to at all. As I've written about in the past, I cannot even begin to know what it is to be Native, or African American, Muslim or any other ethnicity, religious sect, or population who must exist and endure with the ever-present threat or possibility of violence to their physical person or their children.

One garden does not erase the enormous injustices and brutalities in this world. But, we can use the concept of a garden as a way to treat one another as, well, equals and return to civility and humility. Through the garden, we learn to respect the interactions between the things we can't control - namely, Mother Nature - and the fruits of our nurturing to enjoy the food that we grow and eat. We can listen to the sounds of buzzing bees, children laughing, and the rush of water hitting the soil and seeds. By observing, listening, and absorbing, we have the capacity to become more centered, more focused on obstacles and on differences of opinions, more open to speaking to one another, and try to deeply understand our purpose to live as better people.

This time, I'll let a few photos speak for the past month and a half on the Reservation, filled with blooming potatoes, kid-run garden tours, turnip foraging, the beginning of sweet carrots and sugar snap peas, and, yeah, I'll go there: hope.

Captions: (1) the first flush of arugula (2) a cucumber seedling emerges (3) the greenhouse, June 12, 2016 (4) early morning light in mid-summer greenhouse, July 9, 2016 (5) the first tomato flowers, June 16, 2016 (6) radishes! (7) young garlic check (8) first big greens harvest, June 19, 2016 (9) added art to the greenhouse (10) Winter’s first harvest, June 21, 2016 (11) finally found: a prairie turnip (12+13) foraging with Lakota elder, Ford Hill (14+15) potatoes, pre- and post-bloom (16) the open Plains (17) my garden assistant, sowing climbing bean seeds in our newly opened field! (18) the jalapeños make an appearance, July 1, 2016 (19) the first summer squash emerges, July 4, 2016 (20) carrot check, July 4, 2016 (21) the green garden, July 5, 2016 (22) prickly pear cactus, hiding among the prairie grasses (23) climbing sugar snap pea tendrils, climbing (24) wildflowers at the Missouri River (25) a welcoming squash blossom, July 8, 2016 (26) Sergio, my kid garden assistant and resident tour guide, doing his thing with confidence…and an iron fist!

Sights of South Dakota: late August-early September 2015

I've been home for less than 24 hours, and I'm already reflecting on this summer on the Reservation. (Shocking.) I've done this extended trip twice now, and while I'm somewhat seasoned to the routine, no stay is the same nor should it be expected to remain the same.

From a growing perspective, the garden produced beautifully and continues to do so under the watchful and attentive eyes of six individuals in town. Perhaps my proudest moment was the kids' first pay-what-you-can farm stand. They wanted to sell vegetables to raise money  for a new piece of playground equipment, which they would like to vote on collectively. How cool is that?! My heart swelled as I watched adults in town, some whom I have not seen all summer, pull in with their cars, look around, support the kids' efforts, and ask when we were going to do this again. What really sunk in: People crave vegetables and good food. Now, it's accessible in La Plant. 

And, the kids really did help. I had a steady stream of them take informal shifts, ask to hold up road signs to drum up more business (some even made kites with the word "farm stand" on them), keep me company at the stand, and ask questions about vegetables, how I learned to grow food, school, and if I miss La Plant and them when I'm not there.  (The answer to the last question, while largely choking back tears: "Of course I do, goofball!)

I think this event really solidified that food is a magnificent, wonderful, unifying force. And, it's changing things, albeit slowly, on the Reservation.

This was not an easy summer. I dealt with many issues well beyond my scope of training and ones that I could not have anticipated, particularly youth suicide and navigating the mental health resources available to people in the area. Life on the Reservation can be unpredictable, tragic, heart-breaking, incredibly frustrating, nonsensical, and indescribable to family and friends who haven't been there. But, I truly take the ambassador aspect of my job to heart, and every trip to La Plant underscores the ongoing need to tell the stories of the people there, namely the children whom I have grown to love. I'm grateful for the challenges, new allies and support systems forged, the amazing successes (including the farm stand and the kids' participation in the Unity Concert in the Black Hills!), and the enormous learning curve of this summer. 

Now, here are some sights of late summer in South Dakota (including a trip to the Badlands!).

Leaving La Plant and the harvest, for now

Leaving La Plant and the harvest, for now

On most farms, September is the month when the weeds stop being as crazy, the harvest is plentiful yet manageable, and you complain only slightly less. So, closing the latch on the garden gate for the final time felt sudden and an odd way to pause a blossoming relationship.