We’re doing another Kickstarter campaign for Pine Ridge this year to pay for irrigation, fixing up housing and a number of other projects we have ongoing. See our photos, stories and more at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/892430421/permablitz-for-pine-ridge-reservation-2013. Our intention is to contribute to the creation of food and water sovereignty, healthy shelter and alternative energy on the reservation.
Last year’s tree planting and gardening at Pine Ridge has led to expanded plans for this year! Our plans include three food forests at Pine Ridge this year, with three different organizations on the rez. We will also help install gardens and give classes on the techniques we’ll be using. We’ll be there from late April to mid-May, . Planting will occur Apr 29, May 1-4 and May 5-9.
We still need volunteers! We have a Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/892430421/pine-ridge-reservation-food-forest-2012-0
Pine Ridge reservation is a “food desert” in the extreme sense of the word. There are almost no organic foods being sold on the reservation. People often have to drive two hours or 100 miles to get organic or fresh vegetables or fruits. Diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related diseases are at epidemic proportions on the rez. The infant mortality and early death rates are some of the worst in the world. Food security is a major issue. The land is harsh – with severe, drying winds, hail in July, and freezes in June and August sometimes. Insect pests are ubiquitous. It can be challenging to grow things on this land.
Food forests are a way of working with nature to create stable ecosystems that grow lots of food. We mimic how a natural ecosystem of trees would behave in this zone. Because this is open prairie land and the main trees are pine forests, we will be experimenting to some degree to create a good microclimate for fruit trees. There are a number of successful orchards around that we are learning from.
Forests create milder temperatures (cooler in summer, warmer in winter), windbreaks, water capture, erosion control, and many other benefits. One can have a small food forest in the backyard, or a larger one on a few acres. Agroforestry is another version of using trees to produce food. There are many advantages to all of these approaches and they can be integrated in the existing ecosystem in ways that enhance the ecosystem.
The Lakota are known for buffalo hunting, but they also traditionally appreciated the wild plant food that grows in the region. We’ll be including native edibles traditionally used by Lakota in our food forest, as well as other fruits and nuts that are of interest.
Food forests provide a food system that mimics the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tradition of the Lakota. We are creating demonstration/experimental forest gardens this year and will continue to document progress, make it publicly available, enhance the forests, and help plant new ones in years to come. This is not a one shot deal!
We need donations of trees, seeds and plants, irrigation piping and equipment, rain catchment containers, and funding for travel and food expenses for experts who will install and educate while there. We also need volunteers to help with planting, and are looking for skilled volunteers to help install irrigation, water catchment, and other systems.
Two members of Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) Koreen Brennan and Bob Lawrason, will be headed to Pine Ridge in late April for approximately three weeks, from the Tampa Bay area. We are looking for other volunteers to come up from the Tampa area to carpool and share travel costs. There will also be volunteers coming from Oregon, Wisconsin, California and elsewhere.
Please consider a tax deductible donation via our donation Pay Pal button.
If you have donations of materials or would like to volunteer, please contact us via the web site!
We focused on the natural world this year at Pine Ridge, immersing ourselves in nature awareness and communion with the land.
It started with the arrival of over 100 wild horses rescued for release on 8000 acres of prairie stewarded by Oglala-Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitilization Initiative. Nothing could embody the spirit of freedom via self-sufficiency that we’re striving for more than to watch, from the garden, this wild herd in full gallop across the range – purely because they feel like it. Our breath ends up in our throat regularly in response to the beauty and majesty of this animal.
We had many chances to watch the behavior of the wild herd and learn design lessons from it. We’ll share some of those in future articles.
As beautiful and intriguing the horses are, our biggest focus for this year was food sovereignty. Pine Ridge is a “food desert”, with almost no grocery stores on the rez (many people travel 1 hour or more to Rapid City, paying huge sums in fuel costs as well as for groceries), and almost no local, fresh food available. There are small, positive changes being made, and we made connections with some other great organizations on the rez also working on this issue – Roots and Shoots has installed several community gardens in Kyle and other areas, and Thunder Valley is engaging the community in discussions about the subject, raising awareness and gathering information on needs and resources. They have also helped create more access to the few farmer’s markets on the rez. The Pine Ridge Fire Dept is growing a community garden and giving the food away to the public, and this will be a good outlet for our excess crops as well.
Our goal was to make what we did in our garden as relevant and useful for others as possible, and we’ve been gathering information about what people are struggling with in trying to grow food on the rez for a couple of years now.
We decided to completely redo the garden (as the original wasn’t designed for water catchment) and create an experimental site in order to find out exactly what people deal with in the harsh climate of the plains.
A common gardening method here is what could be described as “scorched earth.” In an effort to keep pests from finding the garden, people mow down the prairie grass for dozens of feet surrounding it, leaving the soil exposed to dry winds and baking sun in the summer, and erosion in the wet season. We decided to try to see what would happen if we let succession happen naturally and worked with nature instead of against her, letting the “weeds” grow near the garden.
We sheet mulched about 1/4 acre with composted manure (plenty of it on the ranch), and straw, cut a swale, measured out a pond, and cut paths to capture rainwater and send it into the garden.
We created two small greenhouses out of pallet boxes and old clear tarp lying around. They didn’t warm things up much, but they protected young seedlings from wind, hail and creatures. We planted more than 80 species of heirloom veggie, herb and flower seeds, to see how each would do in this particular environment, and started a spreadsheet to keep track of results.
Because we didn’t do the scorched earth thing, our garden filled up quickly with pigweed, lambsquarter, the dreaded goathead and wild sunflowers. Pigweed and lambsquarter are very edible and also dynamic accumulators, and the pig loves them. So we let them stay and added their nutrition to our salads and potherb dishes.
Goathead is another matter. It is a ground cover pioneer species that spawns a vicious burr that has two giant spikes on it like devils horns, or goat’s horns (thus the name), sharp enough to flatten a bicycle tire or leave a gaping, bleeding wound in your foot. The manure we used for the sheet mulch was inundated with goathead seeds. So we weeded a lot more than we usually do. Normally we would have just mulched it into non-existence, but we also wanted to try out numerous heirloom veggie and herb species this year, and we got a late start for a number of reasons, so we left the beds uncovered to plant seeds and seedlings. Next year, our strategy will be to let the goathead come up while growing seedlings in the greenhouse and allowing the soils to warm up, mulch it down, then plant in the mulch. That way, we should avoid having to weed at all, while adding fertility and protection to the soil.
By pushing the system, opening it to pests and weather, we discovered which varieties did well and which didn’t. We also learned a tremendous amount about the challenges people face when trying to grow vegetables in this tough climate (hot, dry summers, very cold winters, hail the size of baseballs sometimes, strong, dry winds, only a three to four month frost-free window, heavy clay-silt soils, and tons of pests – every plant chomping and sucking insect you could think of seems to live here, and some I had hardly imagined! The abundance of insect life is quite impressive). Though it took some courage because we knew we would probably lose crops, we wanted to deal with what we’ve seen the average gardener dealing with her, and see how hard it would be to get those factors under control, starting from an imbalanced system.
We had visits from just about every pest that must exist in these parts. That was interesting, as I have rarely had to deal with pests in the balanced systems we set up. But, from our surveys done last year, we found that many people do deal with them on the rez and handling them organically seems difficult. So, what works once they are in the system and active?
We wrote an article about our findings, here:
We spent many hours researching suitable plant species for the area – which are invasive? Which are toxic to horses or cows? (many of our favorite nitro fixers and other permaculture staples are toxic to horses – we now have a pretty thorough list). Which are easy to grow, drought and cold tolerant, nutritious and healthy, similar to what people already eat and like, etc? We came up with a list we were excited about (and still are – some of the things on the list did really well – for instance, we now have several hundred sunchoke plants on our swales and will be adding many more next year – a real survival native crop that grows well under a wide range of conditions found here. Bonus – the inulin in them helps with diabetes, something that 60% of the people on the rez suffer from).
In the midst of planting and caring for the garden, mid-June, we got a hot tip about some bare root trees that could be bought for almost nothing. We were planning to do a food forest, and this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to get the wind break trees we needed to create a suitable microclimate for the more delicate fruit trees we’ve wanted to plant on the plains. We ended up getting more than 600 trees – 400+ honey locusts alone.
Getting 600 trees planted fast when you weren’t planning on it can be a bit of a challenge! Since they were bare root and it was late in the season, soon to become hot and dry, we couldn’t take our time about it – we had about three days before trees started dying.
We received some amazing assistance from Bryan Deans, head of OLCERI, who commandeered getting 600 holes dug with his bobcat in only a few hours, and from three volunteers, Dave Karp, Felicia Hobart and Dani Slabaugh, all of who worked extra long hours to make it happen. We got some key natives into the food forest system such as buffalo berry, hackberry, and cottonwood, and other edibles like rugosa rose, caragena, elderberry, and hawthorn. And windbreaks up in many of the major areas (though we still need cedars, which will come next year).
Many of these trees can be easily propagated, so next year, we will create dozens of pots to give out to people who need windbreaks and/or fodder. Already, we have a number of requests from others on the rez for honey locusts and some of the others for next spring.
The trees are beautiful – leaves swaying in the wind and new growth shooting up faster than usual (probably because of the mychrorrhizia we soaked the roots in and added to the soil). We can’t wait until next spring when the sweet fragrence and flowers of 400 honey locusts will fill the area. This tree has so many uses – it is great fodder for animals, much of it is edible for humans, but perhaps its strongest quality for the mostly treeless prairie is the wood, which grows rapidly and does not rot. It can be used for posts for fences, for firewood (which can be lifesaving in prairie winters), or for round beams in buildings. We visited a greenhouse earlier in the year in Wisconsin that is built from raw trunk wood of black locust, which has similar properties. The architecture is beautiful, and there is a lot less waste of wood. We can coppice honey locust trees for the wood without killing them, and continue to enjoy their beauty for many years. Another possible bonus is that they may fix nitrogen. Though their roots do not collect the nodules usually associated with nitrogen fixers, and some people insist they do not fix nitrogen, there is scientific evidence that they do bring nitrogen to the soil. We’ll be watching how other plants do around them, next year.
We created a list for a seven layer food forest that focuses on native and traditional edibles and medicinals of the Lakota, as well as a wide variety of fruit and nut trees that grow in this climate zone. We are trying a few species that grow in warmer zones, to see how we do with our microclimates. In an area with extremely harsh winters (wind chill of down to -50 F, wide temperature swings, early and late frosts, etc), this is a special challenge. We would love hearing from and exchanging knowledge with people who have food forest experience in this type of climate!
Some of our plants did splendidly well, growing with wild exuberance and abundance, while others struggled with the climate and soils. We’re documenting the heirloom varieties that do the best, so we can share that knowledge with the rest of the rez (and publicly, via our web site). Again, we’re very interested in hearing from others who are gardening in W South Dakota or NW Nebraska climates, their successes, their favorite varieties, etc. Please feel free to post on our page or share on our facebook page at
Our other major project was documenting some of the wild edibles on the prairie. We explored our pasture and the larger range, documenting wild medicinals and edibles and where they are to be found. This has only begun, but we found many wonderful species and will be continuing that project next year. We’re sharing some of our findings on our partner Facebook site at facebook.com/olceri. Check out the photo albums on our Facebook sites, of our gardens, food forests, horses, Pine Ridge life, and more.
Shannon Freed, graduate of our Pine Ridge PDC did not waste any time applying her permaculture knowledge. Last year, she held a 10 week apprenticeship at Pine Ridge which resulted in a beautiful cob home being built for a Lakota on the reservation (sustainablehomesteaddesigns.org)
This year, she wants to repeat that feat, this time building a 30X30 foot pallet home for another family in need of better shelter. Pro-builder David Reed will be overseeing the project (www.newjurabuilding.info). This is a wonderful opportunity to learn natural building techniques from a top professional while building a home for someone who really needs one. And also to experience life on the Pine Ridge Oglala-Lakota reservation. Please let your friends know about this event, it is one not to miss! Shannon runs a great apprenticeship (we checked it out personally last year) and it is for a very worthy cause. This type of building could work well on the rez, and it is badly needed in a place where many people live in really poorly insulated mobile homes and federal housing.
Both the Permaculture Design Course at Pine Ridge and Urban Permaculture Design Course at Tampa will offer college credits from local colleges. We will have the course numbers available soon, but if you are a student, please plan on being able to purchase three credits from your local college for the course.
It’s been several weeks since I returned from Haiti and I’m still processing. I could write a book on what I’ve absorbed since starting this journey in January, but I’d rather just do something about it. I will try to get a few articles up in the next few weeks about what occurred, what we saw, what the future holds.
The main thing I’d like to share right now is our plans to bring some people from the SE division of the Ministry of the Environment to Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota to get training on Keyline Design and other permaculture techniques and principles. They are very interested in using permaculture to revitilize their economy and rehabilitate the eroded and denuded hillsides and mountaintops of Haiti.
There are many differences between Pine Ridge and Haiti – they are two very different worlds culturally. But the similarities are haunting, especially in the sufferings of poverty and oppressions, so much so, that when the idea arose, it made perfect sense to bring this contingent to Pine Ridge to see the permaculture “revitilization” program ongoing there. Many elements of that program would also work in Haiti, and some of them are already being implemented under this Ministry.
While you may have heard negative things about the Haitian government and no doubt some of them are true, they are most definitely not true 100% of the time, in 100% of the government. There are sincere, competent, and passionate people working in the government who are in a position to do something about their country and we feel the people we are working with in the Ministry fall into that category. They have recently created a vermicomposting program, they are researching sustainable polycropping, agroforestry, they gave full back up and support to our permaculture team, providing an office and connections which enabled them to “teach the teachers” in their limited time there, and have continued to provide support to those of us still involved.
In turn, we’d like to bring them to Pine Ridge to give them the knowledge of keyline design. This is a highly appropriate technology to remediate the denuded hills of Haiti, and it will dovetail with a program the government is already running, teaching women to run heavy machinery like tractors, doing earth moving. There are many ways in which keyline design can dovetail with ongoing energies and create really positive results.
If you’d like to assist us to bring this to fruition, please contact us via our site. Please also let others know that participation in our keyline class or other classes at the rez will help fund this project as well as the Pine Ridge project.
Haiti – Donate Now…
AND/OR Purchase Books and Products. Portions of the proceeds allows us to reach out to communities such as these.
A few people have asked what we base our fees on for our courses. Some believe that permaculture education should be very inexpensive or free so that it is accessible to as many people as possible. There are many viewpoints about this, and we believe that multiple viewpoints on this topic, like any other, are healthy for the system and there is room for all of them.
This is how we view the subject for ourselves and why:
Our work is focused on assisting some of the highest poverty and most oppressed areas on the planet, which are also very culturally rich with much to offer. We focus on projects that regenerate degraded lands and devastated economies so these communities can become self-sufficient and experience resilient abundance. Our methods are focused on connecting resources and knowledge and putting them in the hands of the people at grass roots level so they can create their own destinies within their own cultural context.
We offer our courses and services for free to individuals from those impoverished areas and also bring resources into those environments to assist in the process of regeneration.
We invite students from outside those communities to participate, and charge them rates comparable to similar courses in order to help fund our work in those areas. We feel this is a better way to do it than grant monies, where possible, as it gives us more freedom to remain maximally flexible and responsive to the needs and resources of the communities. Please see our blogs in this section for descriptions of some of the work we are engaged in, particularly at Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and Haiti, post earthquake.
Our instructors are some of the most knowledgeable and respected available and often charge top consultant rates for teaching. They are worth it because they can impart knowledge far more deeply, quickly and accurately than someone with less knowledge and experience could do.
We provide a number of extras with our courses that many organizations do not provide, such as rich cultural experiences, apprenticeship opportunities, community building, web promotion for graduates, etc.
Our courses are well worth the fees from a purely practical investment viewpoint, because the knowledge and experience gained should save you far more than the course fee within a few weeks or months if you apply it to your life.
Please know that your course fees are what allow us to continue with our work in devastated areas, and that we strive to make your investment well worth your while by trying to go above and beyond in delivering not just information, but rich life experience that you will always remember.
Writing from the rez – the course is starting to wrap up with students going off into their own world, working on their design projects. I’ve been working with OLCERI (Oglala Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Initiative) for several years and helped raise funding for their initial projects, but this is the first partnership for Permaculture Guild and OLCERI.
The course was held on an 8000 acre cattle ranch on the rez, run by Bryan Deans. Bryan also heads a youth organization called Running Strong, which gives Lakota youth experience training and riding horses on the ranch and gaining other traditional skills.
Some of the students who arrived early for the course helped raise the tipis that dot his pasture amidst horses and a round pole shade shelter.
Bryan has many projects ongoing – homemade wind generators, veggie oil biodiesal, straw bale retrofit of flimsy homes, super efficient heating stoves using “waste” fuels to counteract the sometimes brutally cold winds that sweep the rez, and a plan to provide food for the rez on tribal common lands, a return to the wildcraft gathering ways of the Lakota. Bryan’s ranch is an ideal place for permaculture design – so many resources yet so much damage. Illegal overgrazing by a white rancher on tribal lands has created huge erosion and water catchment problems which permaculture is well-qualified to solve.
Our expert guest permaculture instructor, Warren Brush, has communicated many ideas about how to regenerate rangeland, not only to catch water, but to again grow the tall prairie grasses that have been unable to find a foothold in the denuded landscape. He has shared knowledge about intensive raising of grass fed cattle and other animals, as well as integrating multiple systems such as aquaculture (fish and water plants), food forests and more. This is big country, with lots of potential.
The students are learning about Lakota ways and perspectives as they absorb knowledge about weather, natural patterns in landscapes and in communities, living soil and water, and the transactions of trees and how all of these relate to designing for abundance in human systems. They are also getting practical hands on knowledge – how to create a 21 day compost pile, how to do a cold frame graywater system, how to make energy efficient stoves.
Bryan’s vision is large – he wants to regenerate all 2 million acres of the reservation, he wants to use straw bale to retrofit the very energy inefficient housing that dots the rez, for warmth in winter and coolness in summer, he wants to create food forests all over the rez to feed his people and he wants to create a sustainability school where anyone can come to learn about how to live a truly sustainable life. There are others on the rez who also share large visions – how appropriate for the Lakota to lead the way in teaching sustainable practices.
The Permaculture Guild wants to back up this vision, and in conjunction with OLCERI, we are planning a series of courses on regenerative practices at the rez next year. One aspect of the program will be a youth component, where youth programs at Pine Ridge will team up with Permaculture Guild to create an apprenticeship program for youth on and off the rez. Skills will include natural building, cattle cutting and herding, native wildcraft and herbs, permaculture design, wilderness survival and tracking, etc. Career mentoring will be included as a part of this program as well.
Other workshops will include straw bale and super adobe building, water systems, wind turbines, biodiesel production and of course, permaculture design. Warren Brush has agreed to return next year to bring his wisdom and expertise on permaculture design to a new group of PDC students in September. More news soon!
Pine Ridge – Donate Now…
AND/OR Purchase Books and Products. Portions of the proceeds allows us to reach out to communities such as these.