Photo of the Week: Let the Growing Season Begin at Solar Warrior Farm

solar warrior farm

About this photo

Ferlin Hopkins, TWP’s Garden Coordinator and horticultural extraordinaire, stands next to the 1st 1,000 starters to be planted at Solar Warrior Farm for the 2013 growing season. The starters are currently living in one of our hoop houses as they await their big move to the main garden. Ferlin has been working hard to get the Farm prepared for planting, including installing a drip irrigation system, preparing soils, and weeding.

Stay tuned for many more updates on Solar Warrior Farm and thank you to everyone who has supported this important project!


Upcoming Training: Sustainable Agriculture and Solar Water Pumps

solar water pump training

June 9-15, 2013

Trees, Water & People, Lakota Solar Enterprises, and Solar Energy International are working together to bring you a training on sustainable agriculture. Key components of the training will be instruction in installing a solar powered water pump and drip irrigation system to water your garden. Hands-on instruction takes place at the Solar Warrior Farm on the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The training costs $850 per student, which includes instruction, food, and lodging for the duration of the course. For more information, download our registration form.

We are also very happy to be able to offer three scholarships for this training, with preference given to veterans scholarship application. If you are a interested in receiving a scholarship, please download our scholarship application.


Corporate Partner Spotlight: New Belgium Brewing

solar warrior farm
New Belgium Brewing supports Solar Warrior Farm, which produces a wide variety of native and heirloom fruits and vegetables for Lakota families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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!





Notes from the Field: New friends, new home gardens, and “natural” disasters

by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern

The past two weeks have been a dramatic up and down ride at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. We were so lucky to spend a week with a church group from Colorado as they learned about Lakota culture and volunteered their time on the reservation.  The group was on a youth mission trip from the Heart of the Rockies Church in Fort Collins, and we haven’t seen a group of better learners or harder workers. They helped us pull weeds and harvest on the Solar Warrior Farm, clean up the grounds around the workshop, rebuild two solar air heaters, and plant a vegetable and herb garden for one lucky Pine Ridge family.

Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center
Re-caulking solar panels to withstand the heat of the Ute’s tribal lands

The already constructed solar heaters, which were destined for the Ute reservations of Southwestern Colorado, needed to be taken apart and re-caulked. They had originally been sealed with a low-temp caulk, that while reliable for South Dakota weather, would not stand the test of high heat. We recently discovered that the caulk was melting in a unit we just installed on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and it couldn’t handle the stronger Southwestern sun. Since the Ute reservations are in that same part of the country, we upgraded to a high-temp caulk to prevent future melting.

food security program_family gardenHeart of the Rockies was generous enough to bring plants and seeds with them to start a garden at the home of our goods friends, the Black Feathers. Headed by Shirley Black Feather, the family has dreamed about having a productive garden for a long time now. Shirley is a diabetic who needs to go in for regular dialysis twice a week. The procedure is costly and difficult on the family, especially when the Black Feathers have no transportation to drive Shirley 10 miles to Pine Ridge. Access to fresh, healthy produce that is grown right at their home is the best pejuta – medicine – they can get. Together with Shirley’s son, Virgil, the Heart of the Rockies crew planted a small diabetic-friendly garden. Drawing inspiration from our own Solar Warrior Farm, the Black Feather’s garden had a mix of the three sisters, tomatoes, peppers, greens, and herbs, made use of milk jug irrigation, and was planted in the symbolic shape of a Lakota medicine wheel. Once everything was in the ground, the space was blessed with both a Lakota prayer by Virgil and a blessing by the church pastor, Scott Hardin-Nieri. Before the group left, Virgil gifted them two of his original paintings and the group reciprocated by giving him a set of oil pastels. Tears were shed, new friendships were formed, and lives were changed. It was a beautiful moment.

As those new friends were leaving, another new face came into our lives last week, as we played host for a week to Sarah Alderman, a journalist who is working with Aaron Huey to collect stories and portraits of Lakota life for National Geographic’s Cowbird storytelling project. Among the many folks Sarah recorded, Virgil Black Feather’s (, and our own Solar Warriors Henry ( and Darrell Red Cloud’s ( stories are now online (

Sarah published this before we could, but one of the stories you’ll hear Henry tell is of the disastrous prairie storm ( that rolled through the Pine Ridge Reservation on July 21 and devastated our buildings, trees, and farm. Just as the sun was sinking below the horizon that night, dark clouds rolled over the Western hills and into our valley.

Anyone on the Great Plains knows that when you see storm clouds, you only have a matter of minutes to prepare. But this was no average storm – it was a highly localized and powerful wind shear. Imagine a tornado without the funnel and winds so fast that our wind turbine shut itself off. Pine Ridge Reservation wind shear damageOther effects included: an old trailer (whose frame was set to be reused as a new straw-bale home at the RCREC) blown apart, the garage door on the new Annex folded in on itself, decades old trees laying on the ground, and the Solar Warrior Farm nearly ruined…or so we thought. In the week that followed the storm, our Solar Warriors were busy in the garden standing up felled corn stalks and nurturing the plants back to health. With roots still firmly in the rich buffalo-fertilized earth, the farm is looking as good as ever. Harvest time is still here, and just today the bees arrived en masse to pollinate the corn. Now we’re looking forward to giving away more farm-fresh food this week at the big Oglala Lakota Nation Pow Wow in Pine Ridge.

In the week that followed the storm, our Solar Warriors were busy in the garden standing up felled corn stalks and nurturing the plants back to health. With roots still firmly in the rich buffalo-fertilized earth, the farm is looking as good as ever. Harvest time is still here, and just today the bees arrived en masse to pollinate the corn. Now we’re looking forward to giving away more farm-fresh food this week at the big Oglala Lakota Nation Pow Wow in Pine Ridge.

A battered Solar Warrior Farm after a massive wind shear pounded Pine Ridge.

Notes from the Field: Bursting with Life at Solar Warrior Farm

by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern

Solar Warrior Farm
Jordan Engel working the Earth at Solar Warrior Farm

Last week, Lakota Solar Enterprises was on the road representing the tribal renewable energy movement at a photovoltaic training in Carbondale. With Henry and crew back on the reservation now, and newly certified as PV instructors, the wheels of that movement are turning ever faster as we prepare for a busy summer at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.

At the top of our to-do list is completing the construction of the training annex – a second Quonset hut with a classroom, kitchen, and dormitory that will significantly increase the number of trainees that the Tribal Program can accommodate. In the first two weeks of July, droves of volunteers will be coming to the center with hammers in hand to help build the interior walls of this new building.

cellulose insulation
Applying cellulose insulation to the Red Cloud Training Annex

Of course, it wouldn’t be ready for this phase of construction without first insulating the heck out of the exterior walls. The RCREC insulation of choice: cellulose. Lakota Solar Enterprises fortunately has all the equipment necessary to do cellulose installations including a mechanical hopper, a water pump, hoses, and a horse trailer full of cardboard (cellulose insulation) that is sitting outside of the new Annex. This cardboard comes from the only recycling program on the entire Pine Ridge Reservation, and is coordinated by Henry.

The process of installation is usually quite simple. However, the Quonset hut does present some challenges. The vaulted steel walls require a wet-spray application as opposed to the much simpler dry fill that is often done with cellulose. Our spray is mixed with standard wood glue to ensure that the fibers adhere to each other. Wet cellulose needs time to dry before another layer can be added and that can take time. Eventually, the walls we be layered with 3 to 6 inches of insulation with an overall R-value between 11 and 23. The ingredients in the cellulose are just recycled paper content and borates, which act dually as a fire retardant and deterrent to nesting rodents. Converted horse trailers at RCREC are now a collection spot for used cardboard that will eventually be ripped apart to make more cellulose. Using local materials to create local jobs to build local sustainable infrastructure – now that’s progress.

Food Security Program
Food security begins with the youth!

On the gardening front, the Solar Warrior Farm recently got a huge facelift. Birch Hincks and a group of volunteers drove up from Colorado last week with a truck full of lovely starts donated by the Plantorium nursery in LaPorte, CO. Together with a group of Pine Ridge residents, we planted rows and rows of heirloom tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and zucchini (which we now call Sioux-kini: a terrible pun, I know). Inter-planting crops is part of our strategy for maximizing the amount of fertile garden space that we have. In one row alone we have tomatoes, carrots, peppers, sunflowers, horsetail, and sage all growing together. The first three were planted by us Solar Warriors, and the rest was nature’s doing.

Mary and Jordan forage for timpsila (Lakota for wild prairie turnips) in the hills above White Clay Creek.

More and more, I’m slowly learning the involved ways in which the Lakota interact with the environment. Though agriculture was never part of the old ways here, plants have always played an important role in Lakota culture. As my friend Mary took me up in the hills above White Clay Creek to forage for timpsila (Lakota for wild prairie turnips), we ended up finding much more: wild plums, chokecherries, soapweed yucca (used for bathing), coneflowers, and the list goes on. The knowledge of how to use these native species has been forgotten by most, but has been preserved in Lakota tradition. I am trying to document this knowledge as best I can with the hope of eventually producing a small guide to identifying and using traditional Lakota plants.

The garden is now bursting with plant life, but plants aren’t all that we’re growing on the Solar Warrior Farm. Composting worms, a garden’s best friend, recently found a new home in a re-purposed freezer next to the garden. Vermicompost is nothing new at the center. Henry kept worms to eat his kitchen scraps for quite a while but unfortunately the flood in February 2011 that did so much damage on the reservation also drowned our subterranean friends. With drainage holes drilled into the freezer, the new worms should be comfortable and hopefully they will produce lots of castings that we can harvest and use to fertilize the garden next spring. Maintaining soil fertility each season is an absolute must.

milk jug irrigation
Milk jug irrigation!

We’re not expecting a flood anytime soon, so we have to be careful about how we use our water. Unless Wakia Oyate, the Thunder People, bring rain from the West soon, we are in for a dry summer. An old method of water conservation commonly used in arid regions of Africa is clay pot irrigation. The pots are buried in garden beds and filled with water. The water then slowly seeps out through the porous clay directly to the plants’ roots and prevents waste in the topsoil. We’ve adapted that on the farm, substituting pots for reused milk jugs with holes drilled throughout. There are a variety of methods that can be used for sustainable agriculture on the plains, and on our educational farm we hope to inspire those who are interested to explore these methods.

Stay tuned for more updates…until then please visit our website to learn more about our Food Security Program and the Tribal Renewable Energy Program.