Rebuilding Community & Food Systems on Pine Ridge

On the Pine Ridge Reservation, collaboration, partnerships, alliances – call it what you will – but it’s working, and the community is reaping the benefits of its efforts “to saturate Pine Ridge with healthy vegetables,” which is a goal of Steve Hernandez, who manages the Lakota Ranch Beginning Farmer/Rancher Program in Kyle, South Dakota. (First Nations has supported the program with grants.)

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

Incorporated in 2011, the Lakota Ranch Beginning Farmer/Rancher (BFR) Program has been facilitating and coordinating collaboration among local community groups in Pine Ridge with the intent of strengthening local food systems, reviving the economy and increasing access to fresh foods. Through local collaborations it has provided classes and workshops to local community members on horticulture, food preparation, irrigation and business planning, which has re-engaged the community in growing its own food, teaching kids where their food comes from, and increasing access to fresh foods.

Steve Hernandez, while being videotaped at First Nations' 2014 L.E.A.D. Conference

Over the last few years, the Lakota Ranch BFR Program, in partnership with other local groups, has been instrumental in organizing and implementing a local community garden that has led to the development of a farmers’ market located at Oyate Teca Youth Center in Kyle, in addition to a mobile farmers’ market. With the garden and market located at the youth center, students are able to participate in the garden, learn how to prepare the produce, and have immediate access to fresh vegetables and healthy foods. For the community, the farmers’ market and garden provide a place where community members can purchase raw vegetables as well as value-added products. (First Nations has also supported Oyate Teca.)

While the garden provides learning for the kids, the Lakota Ranch BFR Program also works to coordinate with other organizations like Oglala Lakota College and Oyate Teca in providing adult courses in financial literacy, business planning, food preparation, and horticulture.

In three years of operation, the Lakota Ranch BFR Program and its partners have achieved a great deal, but they insist they have only begun as they look forward to the goals of a mobile commercial kitchen, supplying local produce to Pine Ridge schools, increasing the number of farmers in the community, selling value-added products, and reviving the local economy.

The strategy to collaborate with others, centralize efforts and utilize resources efficiently is proving that Native communities are capable and innovative, they just need a little help in planting the seed.

By Jackie Francke, First Nations Director of Programs & Administration