Volunteer Voices: Working on the Solar Warrior Farm and Loving Every Bit!

by Patrick Hall, TWP’s Solar Warrior Farm Intern 
What an exciting season it’s been! The farm seems to have a life of its own. I’ve been surrounded by farming my whole life, I’ve seen bits and pieces throughout the seasons, and I’ve studied a little and talked about it with friends, but I haven’t actually done farming myself. So in a way, this has been a very new and experimental opportunity for me. I’ve grown and learned so much just by listening to the winds and watching nature.

IMG_2249
The Solar Warrior Farm is thriving despite some setbacks earlier in the season, thanks to the hard work of Patrick Hall!

One difficulty I had early in the season was that the truck we use for hauling things and making store runs broke down, so I’ve been unable to get a lot of the supplies that I would like. However, that allowed me to focus on what I DO have and how I can utilize those things to reach my end goal. This season’s theme has been success and failure. Two steps forward, one step back. We started off with a late frost killing ALL of the transplants. Ouch. But with determination, we grew enough seedlings and talked to enough organizations in Fort Collins, CO to resupply.

However, I had never worked with irrigation before. So during this lag time between extermination and revitalization, I began experimenting and learning. Even after the plants came into the ground, I was still puzzled about certain aspects of irrigation. I still play around with it, trying to maximize the amount of water the plants are getting, only to realize I need a lot more emitters. So I bought some more — they were the wrong type. So I bought some others from somewhere else — they didn’t work. And we were buying hundreds at a time, so I really hope I can get some emitters that do WORK because these plants need more water!

Patrick (left) the intern with volunteer
Patrick Hall (left) works with volunteers to produce local food on the Solar Warrior Farm on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Something I truly appreciate is the magic of this place. Listening to stories of the elders, reading books written by medicine men, visiting sacred sites and hearing the spirits’ call, this has been a beautiful place to reside. I’ve left the farm a few times to go to a sweat lodge or go hiking with a friend, but for the most part, I’ve been staying right here. We even had a local mama turtle lay her eggs in one of the garden beds! Good turtle medicine, showing signs of fortitude and persistence, which was really helpful for me at the time. Tankashila (Grandfather Spirit) blesses me with what is needed, not just what I want. I’ve had a friendly face show up just as I begin to get lonely; a volunteer engineer shows up on the day that I was determined to put together the irrigation system and much more.

Trees, Water & People is a unique nonprofit working to find solutions to some major issues on the Pine Ridge Reservation. If you like the work they’re doing, show it by supporting projects like the Solar Warrior Farm.

 

donate button

Indigenous Permaculture: Creating Space for Others in Our World

Shannon Francis
Instructor Shannon Francis facilitated a 3-day workshop about Indigenous permaculture and food sovereignty.

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

We’ve just concluded our first food sovereignty workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Students participated in hands-on projects around the Solar Warrior Farm – renewed the compost bins, created a long-row of sheet mulching that will be a great home for seedlings next spring, and made some wonderful food to share. But meanwhile, we also talked about those bigger issues of community organizing, advocating on the national level across tribes, starting shared garden spaces in cities, and integrating solar technologies into the farm. These discussions were why we titled this event “More Than Food: An Indigenous Food Sovereignty Workshop.”

Students learned about food sov from growing to cooking local.
Students learned about food sovereignty from growing to cooking local, organic foods.

Shannon Francis (Hopi/Dineh) facilitated our three days together, walking us through not only contemporary permaculture, but permaculture that begins with the values and principles of our ancestors, brought forward to today’s world.

One lesson I took away from the workshop was how to create spaces that allow us to grow food we need for our families that also allow, welcome, make use of, and feed other animals and plants. Besides putting up fences to keep our food safe from larger animals, we can also create areas where animals – butterflies, turtles, rabbits, elk, etc. – are also fed and housed. We can take another look at “weeds” and see them as the medicines, the indicators of soil health, the food for us and others. They are related to us, and we are related to them.

Care for the land and the land will care for us.
Care for the land and the land will care for us.

This way of making a garden or farm comes directly from our traditions about thinking of others, sharing what we have, and providing for our community. I believe these values are the basis of the indigenous permaculture movement, and can take us from growing better food, to growing better relationships. Thank you, Shannon and all those who participated for bringing your knowledge and experience to this workshop!

Food for Thought: Food Security vs. Food Sovereignty

Solar Warrior Farm

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

Most of us know the story of teaching someone to fish. But the fight against hunger has shifted greatly in the last decade. We are telling a new story – a story about sharing skills and knowledge back and forth, respecting and valuing tradition, and recognizing a great opportunity when we see it.

The difference is in the language we use and what we mean when we say “sovereignty” versus “security.” When we hear “security” many of us think of a one-way interaction – I am giving food to you. It is the way government food subsidy programs have typically been designed, particularly in Tribal communities. The focus is often on access to food, no matter where that food came from or how it was produced.

Support Food Sovereignty on the Pine Ridge Reservation! VOTE for Solar Warrior Farm in the Gardens for Good contest.

Food sovereignty refers to people determining for themselves who, how and where food is produced for their families and communities. To do this, they must draw upon traditional strengths and ways of knowing, as well as integrate new technologies and new opportunities. This is powerful stuff not only for those communities, but for those who hope to help them.

This is no longer a one-way street, but a call to learn from young people, elders, warriors and mothers. Native people have been successfully producing, preparing, storing food in creative and effective ways for eons. Native people connect with that legacy, and so food sovereignty means more than just getting healthier food on the table. It is reclaiming traditions and teaching others because in the current era, we are all in jeopardy of losing control of the where-how-who of our basic food/water needs.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) fully supports the rights of Native communities to self-determination through food sovereignty. We changed the name of our program to reflect our commitment to the bigger picture and the realities of the families we work with. We’re not only giving or teaching people to fish, we are working together with them to find better ways to fish so we all benefit in the long run. Yakoke!

To learn more about TWP’s Food Sovereignty Program click here.

Notes from the Field: A New Growing Season at Solar Warrior Farm

Solar Warrior Farm volunteer
We love our volunteers!

Not even a Mother’s Day snow storm could hold back the early plantings at the Solar Warrior Farm (SWF) and Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Hardy cabbages survived and are ready to greet the next sets as they arrive. May is a funny month in Zone 4, but many of the gardeners on the Pine Ridge Reservation are happy to see the last frost behind them and they are ready to start more of those early crops of spinach, cabbage, carrots, radishes and raspberries.

Anna Dunlap and Caroline Cuny
Anna and Caroline share gardening stories in the sun.

We were lucky enough to have a visit from Lakota elder and seasoned garden expert Caroline Cuny. She helped us welcome our new Solar Warrior Farm Coordinator for the season – Anna Dunlap, a student from Berea College in Kentucky. A lifetime organic gardener, Anna still had many questions about what works best in the particular microclimates on Pine Ridge. It really takes knowledge and experience to sense what the season might be like this year, and we are very thankful that Ms. Cuny could spend a day, have some lunch and share her time and talents with our crew.

And about those other tasks… The SWF needed some TLC. The beds are tilled, the plantings mapped out and visions of big, juicy tomatoes danced in our heads, as we mucked out the solar powered water tank, weeded the cabbages and cleaned out a space for work tables and starters in the greenhouse. Thanks to Uma Black Hawk-Wilkinson from the Cheyenne River community for helping with those efforts.

solar warrior farm volunteers

It just seems when help is needed, people show up. Trees, Water & People likes to be able to show up for others as well. In 2014, we plan on sharing more veggies and sharing knowledge through more workshops on gardening – focusing on traditional Lakota recipes and healthy eating. Gardening is a perfect time to bring young people and elders together, and helps keep Native communities strong.

We hope you will donate to this important project and consider visiting RCREC and Solar Warrior Farm in 2014. Stay tuned and watch us grow!

Preparing for the 2014 Growing Season at Solar Warrior Farm

Solar Warrior Farm
Solar Warrior Farm in full bloom

As all the gardeners out there know, it is time to start thinking about this year’s harvest! At Trees, Water & People, we are gearing-up for another great season at Solar Warrior Farm. In 2014, our Food Security Program will distribute free veggies, offer educational workshops, and help Lakota families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation start their own backyard gardens. In 2014, we will plant a wide variety of organic produce including, potato, cucumber, squash, tomato, corn, melon, peppers, carrots, and a variety of berries.

Solar Warrior Farm sign

Next month, ten Colorado State University students will join us for a week-long alternative spring break service trip, helping us to prepare Solar Warrior Farm for the new growing season. In addition, we are looking forward to hosting an intern at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) for the summer. Anna Dunlap from Berea College will oversee the Farm as well as providing help with general operations at RCREC.

The RCREC campus is growing too! Home to Solar Warrior Farm, RCREC recently added a new building: Sacred Earth Lodge.  This one-of-a-kind training center is an eco-friendly and affordable space available for rent to conferences, workshops, and by visitors to the area. This new building sleeps 23, greatly expanding our housing options for students and guests who visit RCREC. In October 2013, we hosted the grand opening if the Lodge, which included a tour of the Farm.

Stay tuned for updates as winter fades, spring blooms, and planting begins at Solar Warrior Farm!

Solar Warrior Farm veggies
Veggies ready to be distributed to Lakota families