Lakota Immersion Childcare aka Iyápi Glukínipi (lakotalearners.com) is located in the community of Oglala on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and serves 10 children ages 12 months – 3 years with planned expansion reaching until Kindergarden. Currently the center is purchasing fruits and vegetables through a commercial vendor but the produce is expensive and organic choices are not available. Our mission is to resolve this problem as well as address health issues such as diabetes, cancer and obesity that run rampant on our reservation. Having a garden, including fruit trees, on site not only creates a sustainable long term food source for the children and their families but also gives us an opportunity to include the children in the growing process, creating opportunities for the children to connect with their food and where it comes from. As we move into later phases of the project a greenhouse will be added for year round food growing. During harvest season, canning and food preserving workshops will be held for the parents. Growing food and providing a local source of food for the community is the ultimate goal.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home of the Oglala band of the Lakota Sioux. Situated in the south west corner of South Dakota, the reservation has been labeled by the USDA as a “food desert” (Food Desert Locator Map, Feb. 2014). Food deserts are defined by the USDA as : Low-income census tracts with a substantial number or share of residents with low levels of access to retail outlets selling healthy and affordable foods are defined as food deserts. A census tract is a small, relatively permanent subdivision of a county that usually contains between 1,000 and 8,000 people but generally averages around 4,000 people. Census tracts qualify as food deserts if they meet low-income and low-access thresholds: Low-income: a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, or a median family income at or below 80 percent of the statewide or metropolitan area median family income; Low-access: at least 500 persons and/or at least 33 percent of the population lives more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles, in the case of rural census tracts). Earth Tipi (earthtipi.org), in collaboration with Lakota Immersion Daycare, Colorado State University and Will Allen of GrowingPower are taking a pro-active approach with our new project Wakȟaŋyeža Zaŋnipi ( Healthy Children Project). Phase one of Wakȟaŋyeža Zaŋnipi Project will include growing a preschool garden for the children and families served directly by the childcare and will be implemented immediately. Through gardening, children will engage in an interactive environment. They will observe experiment, nurture, learn and discover the source of the food they eat. Nutrition education at the preschool level influences the development of healthy eating habits. When students learn where food comes from, how it is grown, have hands-on experiences, and use their senses to understand it, they are more likely to taste new food items and accept them as part of their diet resulting in a foundation of lifelong healthy choices. School gardens encourage preference and consumption of fruits and vegetables, increase parental support and involvement, and improve teamwork skills and self-understanding. We are currently seeking support for Phase One to purchase needed materials, tools, seeds as well as pay for project management. South Dakota is a harsh climate. Our regular growing season being from late May or early June through October. However, stray dogs, gusty winds and occasional summer hail storms often damage local gardens. We aim to grow healthy food year round using a green house. With guidance from Will Allen of Growing Power and Colorado State University the most current and leading edge food safety standards for growing and eating food at a school will be followed. As our operation grows, so will our ability to serve a wider audience and become a go to place for learning about green house operations and food preserving and preparation as well as become financially self sufficient through the sale of micro greens following the Growing Power model.