New Belgium Brewing is a company that exemplifies what it means to “walk the talk”. Their Local Grants Program began in 1995 when it was established that for every barrel of beer they produced, $1 would be given to non-profit organizations in the communities where they sell beers. To date, they have donated over $5 million dollars!
We are honored to be one of their grant recipients and want to thank New Belgium for all they do within our local Fort Collins community and far beyond.
A recent grant from New Belgium to our Tribal Renewable Energy Program is now supporting the employment of a “Garden Coordinator” at our newly established Solar Warrior Farm on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Thanks to this generous donation, Gloria Reyes is now employed and responsible for taking care of our 1/2 acre farm, which provides nutritious food to Lakota families living on the reservation. From all of us at TWP: Thank you New Belgium Brewing!
This month’s featured volunteer, Jordan Engel, is embracing a truly unique opportunity through Trees, Water & Peoples Internship Program. Originally from upstate New York, Jordan moved to Kentucky in 2010 to attend Berea College. With his studies focused on Sustainable Community Development, Jordan’s decision to pursue an internship with TWP for the summer was a no-brainer. “I first heard about Trees, Water & People when I saw Henry Red Cloud’s profile in Yes Magazine,” Jordan explained. A few months later Jordan finds himself (a self proclaimed “Yankee”) smack dab in the middle of Indian Country, working side by side and towards the same goals as our partner, Henry Red Cloud.
Jordan arrived in Pine Ridge South Dakota excited to learn about sustainable building techniques and solar energy. After living on the Rez, Jordan has learned about a lot more than just that. “The numbers only tell part of the story,” Jordan exclaimed when referring to the staggering poverty statistics that exist about life on Pine Ridge. “I’m learning about happiness, and how to be happy…how to live my life and make the most of it.” The Lakota culture is beautiful and can be quite invigorating; Jordan’s learning this firsthand.
The Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) campus on the Pine Ridge Reservation is the heart of TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy and Food Security Programs, and the place that Jordan calls home at the moment. As TWP’s on-site assistant, Jordan handles a myriad of tasks including maintaining and improving campus buildings, assisting Henry in accommodating trainees, and assisting Henry with sustainable living and renewable energy projects. When asked what his favorite task is, he said it’s definitely taking care of the Solar Warrior Farm and foraging for traditional foods. “I love working the earth!” Jordan exclaims, “We’re growing food for the people and it’s making waves. This is a little thing that’s making a big difference.” In the end, this is what TWP is all about: Finding culturally appropriate ways to improve lives and help people manage their natural resources.
If you would like to hear more about Jordan’s experiences, check out his regular “Notes from the Field” posts right here on the TWP blog.
by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern
It seems to be on everybody’s minds these days. Maybe they don’t reference it directly, but no one can ignore the facts. Climate change is happening now. In days like these, when 100 degree temperatures are engulfing much of the country and bizarre and deadly weather is taking its toll right here in our communities, we can no longer marginalize our relationship with the planet. The National Climatic Data Center released a study today reporting that the current drought affecting the continental U.S. rivals the severity of the 1930s dust bowl. Here on the Great Plains that might scare a few people. It seems inane that we as a society are still turning up the oven knob while you, your family, and billions of people you’ve never met are all inside that very oven. We must ask ourselves what we are doing for the Earth, and in turn for ourselves. Not for our grandchildren – that falsely implies that our actions will not affect us in our lifetimes – but ourselves.
At the Tribal Renewable Energy Program, we can proudly say that we are doing a lot. We’re training Native Americans to be 21st century Solar Warriors and defenders of Mother Earth. This past week was an important milestone in the program as walls went up in the new training annex in Pine Ridge. The interior construction of this new training space was expected to take two weeks, and was done in just over one. So now we’ll just take a moment to send out a few obligatory thank you’s: Big thanks to TWP board member Jeremy Foster for leading this project. His dedication to the renewable energy program cannot be understated, and without him, none of this would have been possible. We’re also supremely indebted to all of our volunteers who gave their time to travel to Pine Ridge and work like dogs for a while. And of course, we couldn’t have done it without our friends at Re-Member, an amazing volunteer service non-profit based in Pine Ridge which supplied tools and man power for a week. If you haven’t heard of them, please do yourself a favor and check them out.
With all this heat, you’ll be happy to hear that the Solar Warrior Farm hasn’t shriveled up and the squash hasn’t begun baking right there in the sun. In fact, we were told the other day that it is the best garden on the reservation, and last week the Solar Warrior Farm had its very first harvest! Beautiful yellow summer squash, an explosion of zucchini, buffalo currants, buffalo berries, calendula flowers, cilantro, mint, dill, wild bergamot, and sage all came out of the garden are were promptly distributed to visitors and other Pine Ridge residents. The rewards of our food security program are beginning to be realized, and they are so sweet. The key to our success thus far has been access to water. Water is life – without there are no trees, no people, no Trees Water & People (and you shudder to think “what would the world look like without TWP?”). In the garden, ecological design demands that there is redundancy in all things as a sort of safety net to prevent complete system failure. Irrigating solely from well water is dangerous because times of drought will eventually leave people hungry as well as thirsty. As rumors began to circulate around the reservation that wells were going dry in Porcupine, Wounded Knee, and elsewhere, we didn’t wait any longer to diversify our water sources. A solar-powered pump was installed to divert water from White Clay Creek to the garden. Rainbarrels are planned for water catchment from the greenhouse roof. A large cistern in the garden is kept full as an absolute last resort to keep the plants alive. With these measures in place, we can allay our fears of drought and move on to other battles: pests.
If you drive down Solar Warrior Road this time of year, it might seem like you’re boating across rough water. Grasshoppers, thousands of them, jump out of the road on both sides and form what appears to be cohesive liquid wave until further inspection reveals it to be a biblical swarm of bugs. Folks around here have told me horror stories of how the ubiquitous insect destroyed their gardens in an afternoon. Luckily Henry, the experienced gardener that he is, had an organic solution to save the Solar Warrior Farm from being devoured. Spreading flour over the corn stalks acts as a natural insecticide that doesn’t poison the food. It seems to be effective so far, but it’s an ongoing battle.
I’m starting to wonder whether the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center may have outgrown its name. Since its inception, it has become an educational center in many areas other than energy – from sustainable food production to natural building. And it continues to grow. In the coming months, straw bale and rammed earth homes will be going up and natural construction workshops will be planned around those events. We already preparing the sites and anticipation is building.
As new architecture makes its way onto the reservation, I think it is appropriate to briefly pay homage to the vernacular architecture of the Lakota people. The more I learn about tepees (and I’ve learned a lot by putting them up and taking them down in the last couple weeks) the more I appreciate their design for doing everything that good architecture should. They use local materials, are appropriate for the local climate, the conical frame offers robust protection from the wind and rain, and they’re comfortable. I’ve slept in the tepee during the hottest nights of July and during the coldest nights of May – no complaints. A small fire inside the tepee will keep you plenty warm. Tepees are meant for easy assembly, but make no mistake; it’s only easy if you know what you’re doing. Henry was once in the tepee business and he and his family are seasoned tepee veterans. There are precise measurements and subtle details that that few realize. For instance, contrary to popular belief the tepee is not a symmetrical cone. The front end is more steeply pitched to leave a low ceiling in the rear sleeping quarters and a high one in the front living area. So if you’re feeling the heat out there, go crawl into a tepee if you have one.
The TWP team has many pleasant and colorful characters turning the gears of sustainability, and this month’s Featured Intern, Cate Stone, is certainly no exception. Having Cate around is a joy. She is a dedicated conservationist with a smile and presence that fills up the room!
Originally from Pennsylvania, Cate was en route to Alaska with her good friends when their magic school bus broke down in Idaho. Revised final destination: Fort Collins!
Soon after Cate discovered TWP here in Fort Collins, she applied and was hired. Serving as National Program Intern, she works closely with Program Director Lacey Gaechter on our new Food Security Program, as well as bringing renewable energy to Native Americans through our Tribal Renewable Energy Program.
“What TWP is doing is pretty incredible!” Cate said when commenting on our community-based approach in Fort Collins and in the other communities we serve. In particular, Cate is referring to the work we do on Native American reservations. It wasn’t until her internship that she began to see for herself the level of poverty that can exist on the reservations of the West. Cate had the opportunity to go to the Pine Ridge Reservation and work with a team of volunteers and our partner Henry Red Cloud on a recent project. “I feel lucky to get to volunteer on the Rez, it makes it all feel real.” she commented on the experience.
We are very lucky to have Cate on board here at TWP! It won’t last forever, though. Cate is excited to get out there and see the world, and aspires to finding a niche in environmental anthropology, focusing on clean water systems in Latin America. Where ever you end up Cate, we know you’ll do great things; thank you for your hard work and dedication!
by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern
There are storm clouds moving in from the Black Hills as I write this and we’re all hoping for a little bit of rain tonight here on the Pine Ridge Reservation. By and by, the new TWP-sponsored Solar Warrior Farm is off to a quick start. The farm consists of two greenhouses and a half-acre, fenced-in garden, which was planted in the late spring by a generous crew of volunteers. Pastured buffalo roamed this land for many years before its current incarnation as a garden, leaving behind loamy, fertile soil. To the north of the farm, White Clay Creek supports the growth of large cottonwoods along its banks that create a much needed windbreak. And of course, a good southern exposure lets in the bright South Dakota sun that gives life to the variety of plants we have here.
The three sisters – corn, squash and beans (or wagmíza, wagmú and omníča in Lakota) – are the mainstays of the garden. Historically, these three crops came to the northern plains through an extensive trade network with distant agricultural tribes. Native Americans from Mexico to Canada grew the three sisters together because of their mutually beneficial properties. Corn stalks provide a natural trellis for the bean vines to climb, beans are nitrogen-fixing legumes which add nutrients to the soil, and the broad squash leaves cover the ground, retaining moisture and keeping weeds down. There were also many plants that the plains tribes traditionally foraged for in the wild – from herbs like sage and wild bergamot to fruit like chokecherries and buffalo berries. These native plants all have a place in our symbolically medicine wheel shaped herb garden. We owe this all to the hard work and determination of many solar warriors, because of whom the farm is slowly growing into an oasis of healthy food and natural medicine.
That is all a huge accomplishment if you consider the environment within which the farm exists. With only one grocery store on a reservation nearly the size of Connecticut, Pine Ridge is a food desert – a place where healthy, affordable food is hard to obtain. When I first came to the reservation last month, that very grocery store had just reopened after a week of being shutdown because they had been caught routinely selling expired meat. Many Pine Ridge residents lack access to transportation, compounding the issue of food security. Healthy food is always scarce here (as reflected by a diabetes rate that is 800% higher than the national average), but that is especially true at the end of each month when government-supplied commodity food begins to run low.
Commodity food is distributed to low-income families on reservations throughout the country by the Department of Agriculture at the beginning of each month, though it’s clearly not enough to last anybody through that entire period. The USDA has contracts with farmers to buy surplus produce, the purpose of which is to avoid national price collapse. Commodity foods have usually been unhealthy, highly processed canned good with corn starch, sugar and salt– all things that were never in the traditional Lakota diet. In the old days, I’m told, commodity food consisted of a can of pure lard with a USDA label slapped on it. And so members of the Oglala Lakota tribe are looking to the alternatives. Buffalo ranching is becoming increasingly common, and more and more people are looking into growing their own food. The Solar Warrior Farm is pioneering this movement on the reservation and we hope that it continues to spread.
There are, however, many obstacles to growing food on Pine Ridge. Because small-scale vegetable gardening is so uncommon, there are very few options for purchasing seeds, tools, and other necessary gardening equipment. Most of our plants were transported here from Colorado by TWP volunteers. For others on the reservation, that is not an option. Another obstacle is the wind. While the regional abundance of bright sunlight and strong wind is terrific for renewable energy, the combination of the two accelerates the evaporative process and dries out the garden.
Rather than fight nature, we are trying to work with it by planting more trees around the garden that will block that wind. Still, the most limiting factor is water scarcity. With infrequent rains, the garden is partially irrigated by drip line and partially watered by hand. Our water comes from a well that draws from the massive Ogallala Aquifer. Running from Texas to South Dakota, the aquifer is quickly being depleted because of industrial agriculture on the plains and harmful “Use It or Lose It” water rights policies. To combat this environmental catastrophe, the Solar Warrior Farm will soon put a variety of measures into place for water conservation, catchment, and groundwater recharge. As straw is locally available and inexpensive here, we are continuing to mulch the garden with it to retain precious moisture, reduce evaporation, and minimize the growth of weeds. Also in the works is a rain barrel workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center for later this month.
If you would like to visit the Solar Warrior Farm, we have weekly volunteer gardening days every Friday throughout the summer. Come pull some weeds and learn about what we are doing for food security on the Pine Ridge Reservation. To learn more about how you can help please email Lacey Gaechter, International Director, at email@example.com or call (970) 484-3678. You can also visit our “Volunteer Opportunities” page to sign-up for volunteer email alerts.
Our Food Security Program provides a functional and educational example of sustainable food production to tribal communities. The program empowers Native Americans to grow their own nutritious and traditional foods, an important step toward tribal food independence. By bringing together the tools and knowledge needed for sustainable food production, Trees Water & People will directly strengthen the relationship of one’s food, one’s body, and the connection that Native Peoples have with Mother Earth and her ability to sustain life.
This past weekend, we had a second group of volunteers join us to break ground on the gardens and work on greenhouse structures at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Food Security Program’sSolar Warrior Farm will have a wide variety of native and heirloom fruits and vegetables. We will nurture this garden space by building raised garden beds, protected by hoop houses to extend the growing season. These small scale gardens will become living examples that Native Americans can visit and learn from. In addition, we will offer the fresh produce, grown at Solar Warrior Farm, to Pine Ridge residents in need. The farm will be open for harvesting as needed.
The Food Security Program will also improve the lives of vulnerable Oglala Lakota youth using a community-based approach, empowering families with the confidence, knowledge, and ability to produce healthy sustenance for themselves and their extended families. By promoting self-sufficient food production within the Pine Ridge community, children and youth will learn all the benefits that accompany producing food for themselves and their families, as well as the importance of nutrition and the negative health effects of processed foods. By volunteering their time in the educational garden space, they will learn self discipline, the rewards of hard work, and the importance of understanding the cycles of Mother Earth that their ancestors knew so well.