Emit Vine King: “I wouldn’t be here.” He thanks the Native American Beginning Farmer Rancher Program for preventing his suicide. Photo by Talli Nauman
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Native Sun News Today: Food sovereignty in action on South Dakota reservations





Food sovereignty at Kyle

Re-engaging the Pejuta Haka Community
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor
nativesunnews.today

SPEARFISH -- When the garden at Kyle community housing development on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation lost its grant funding, the managers also lost track of the volunteer gardeners. Then they found out that one had committed suicide.

“Because the garden project wasn’t there, we had lost contact with the youth, and so we didn’t know he was having a hard time until it was too late,” lamented the director, Jason Schoch.

Schoch and his assistant Patricia Hammond learned the young man had been subjected to bullying, and they vowed to secure replacement funding to re-engage in the Kyle community through gardens.

“So, when the auntie asked us to bring a community garden back to Kyle, we did,” Schoch said.

Now, 12 years from initial efforts to launch community gardening on the reservation, the Serenity Garden is saving lives, and the Native American Beginning Farmer Rancher Program that Schoch manages has grown to include plots in Martin, Wanblee, and Potato Creek.

Community gardener Jackie White Face Solano is one who credits the program personnel for saving her life.

“If I didn’t find them, I don’t think I would have stayed sober,” said Solano.

Without the program, said fellow gardener Emit Vine King, “I wouldn’t be here.” He thanks the endeavor for preventing his suicide.

“We call ourselves a team,” said Schoch. “Sometimes we gotta pull each other out of the mud,” said Hammond.

Their 2017 planting season just ended two weeks ago, with sowing of garlic, spinach and lettuce, they told the Native Sun News Today on November 3. However, Hammond noted, “Food production is not all we do. We need to build people, so they can grow food.”

Their experiences are some of many shared during tribal production and health presentations at the seventh annual South Dakota Local Foods Conference held in Spearfish, November 3 and 4, under the auspices of government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

Participants shed light on the complexities of community gardening and food sovereignty, critical emerging focuses here in Indian country. Hammond sees these issues as threads to strengthening community social fiber.

“It sucks out in the community, with the violence and people screaming next door,” Hammond said. “I don’t care how well you eat, if the drugs, alcohol and sex abuse is crazy bad. People don’t want to talk about that, but we need to get right into those communities and stop all this ugliness that’s going on.”

When Hammond recruited King to the garden, she said she didn’t know that the 31-year-old Kyle native struggled with depression, an outcome of fetal exposure to alcohol and drug abuse. Then one day someone found him “lying on a couch, clocked out,” with a suicide note in his room and a noose in his closet.

“I still have that noose as a reminder,” King said. He was trying to cope with the diabetes and cancer deaths of two uncles who had raised him, as well as the suicides of some of his best friends.

“I was gonna go do it, but I didn’t,” King said. He was volunteering at the Serenity Garden. “We planted watermelons, and when I went back, there was this bush with a big old watermelon,” he recalls. “I said, ‘My babies are growing! Wow, I did that!’ The pride of seeing them growing, it made me want to live.”

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Food sovereignty at Kyle
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