Northern Plains Reservation Aid (formerly American Indian Relief Council)
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Success Stories

AIRC Project Grow

Alfred has worked as a soldier, electrician, and sculptor, yet he still needs to grow his own vegetables to get by.

Gardening to Get Through Winter
Alfred lives on the Lower Brule Reservation in central South Dakota. In his lifetime, he has worked as a rodeo cowboy, farmer, crop duster, infantryman, electrician, and sculptor.

Despite a life of toil, it doesn’t take long for need to catch up. Alfred is grateful that AIRC Project Grow tilled a garden plot behind his house to help him get through the winter. In Alfred’s youth, that’s what gardening was all about.

Remembering the Great Depression
Back then, everyone on Lower Brule had gardens. Alfred began working in his family’s plot as soon as he was “big enough to pull weeds.” Most people planted potatoes, squash, cabbage, and corn, which could be stored in underground root cellars through the harsh winter.

“Even if you had the money, you couldn’t go to the store and buy fresh vegetables” during the Depression, Alfred recalls. “There just weren’t any.” Having a garden wasn’t just a hobby, it was a way to survive.

Now, some 75 years later fresh produce is still generally unavailable or unaffordable on many reservations. So AIRC Project Grow is a popular service, tilling hundreds of gardens for Native Americans in South Dakota.

Alfred on Tractor

AIRC Project Grow hires local residents to till gardens for families on several reservations in South Dakota.

“Here I Sit”
Alfred grew up among the Lower Brule Sioux, a small tribe of about 3,000 members who are related to the Sicangu Sioux on the Rosebud Reservation. The first time he left the reservation was to serve in the infantry during World War II.

Later, Alfred went to trade school in Chicago, became an electrician, and worked in Minnesota and California. Eventually Alfred returned to South Dakota and helped build the power plants at the Big Bend and Fort Randall dams. He also wired most of the homes built on the reservation at that time.

Alfred has also created bronze sculptures that are now held in private collections around the world. These works of art led to his induction into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 1981. “Some of the smaller pieces are worth about $35,000 each now, and here I sit,” he says.

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