Gardening is often a passion passed down through generation to generation, creating memories that last a lifetime.
Melvin, a community member of Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is a great example.
He said he had been gardening “for a while — maybe ten or eleven years.” Melvin learned these skills from his aunt when he was seven or eight growing up on Rosebud Indian Reservation. They loved cucumbers and would slice them up with vinegar, water, salt and a little sugar for a regular treat.
Melvin’s wife had diabetes; it ran in the family. He added, “Knock on wood, I’m not.” His teenage daughter was also diabetic. He explained, “She gives herself a shot when she needs it.”
Fresh fruits and vegetables are often difficult to acquire on the reservation, but excellent nutrition for diabetics.
The Northern Plains Reservation Aid Project Grow gardening program provides tilling services to selected reservations in the Northern Plains each spring. Many of these plots would be tilled on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the original schedule called for a total of thirteen gardens. Although that may be a lot of gardens to consider in one day’s time, it’s doable when tilling in a housing cluster. Multiple gardens are much easier when you don’t have to load all the equipment up, drive thirty minutes to the next house, and then unload.
Tilling in Wanblee was also made much easier by Melvin, who led the tiller and crew through the housing cluster and showed us the appropriate house number. In some cases, he told us where to till the plot using the hand-drawn maps from the owners’ applications. When asked how he got volunteered for the job, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “not sure… only one home.” Melvin made it so much easier that we were able to add four additional gardens to the schedule, which brought the total for the day to seventeen gardens tilled!
Melvin’s neighbor, Jewel, came outdoors to help with the placement of her garden. Her son-in-law had started it three years ago with her grandchildren. She shared that he had since passed away; they had been keeping his tradition going to honor his memory. They planned to plant corn, potatoes, snap peas, and onions. Jewel revealed that Melvin had really good onions and she liked making soup with them. These neighbors also shared their crops with one another. She said it was like, “You try mine; I’ll try yours! And we watch out for each other’s gardens and water if someone is gone.”
It was clear from the gardeners we talked to that gardening was definitely a passion that was passed down from generations. People knew the value of good, fresh food — particularly living in a rural area with little access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.
Gardens obviously provide important social interaction between the generations of families and neighbors. The memories of planting and harvesting last a lifetime.