Tatanka Ki Owetu, the Renewal AgrAbility Project on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is working with 18 participants on site-assessments and on individual needs assessments. Sub-zero temperatures with wind chills from 20 to 50 below zero, followed by Bomb Cyclone Ulmer, then another winter storm and yet another, have been difficult on participants and made it hard for the team to get on sites. Starting a farm when they're far below the poverty line and far off the main roads, poverty means that most of Tatanka Ki Owetu's participants lack even the basic tools and infrastructure that a farmer is going to need to operate. As mentioned in the Project's last e-note submission, new farmers living with disabilities and living in poverty are struggling to set up their built environment. To address this, the team has established teaching incubator-hubs where participants can come and learn not just about ways to farm safely, but also learn to use the equipment safely. The program is working with some farmers with mainly physical disabilities who are struggling to do the physical part of their new operation and staff are also working with participants who primarily have mental, behavioral, and/or developmental disabilities.
The team began pairing these participants together as much as possible and where appropriate. Those who physically can't develop their plan are paired with those that physically can, but struggle with addictions or PTSD or schizophrenia, etc., to help them develop their plan; in doing so, they learn not just the day-to-day tasks of the operation, but slowly, without the pressures of trying to start a farm on their own, learn about the business side of the operation. The Tatanka Ki Owetu team works with both groups - trouble-shooting, designing, bringing in AT, coordinating and assisting them in applying to VR and, in one case, helping them successfully develop, write, submit, and receive a North Central Region S.A.R.E grant to start an agroforestry operation on the Pine Ridge Reservation! This is the team's second successful S.A.R.E grant. Another participant also successfully submitted a specialty crop grant.
Since the last e-note, the Tatanka Ki Owetu team and their partners have put up five high-tunnels on two different incubator-hub sites. Each hub site is responsible for its own financial development, but they're making use of some of the same grants, federal cost-share, technical assistance programs that staff are recommending to Tatanka Ki Owetu's participants. Each of these sites is working with Tatanka Ki Owetu on a series of what the team is calling "rolling workshops." Staff have broken down the process of building a high-tunnel, planning, and planting it into twelve workshops. With poverty, the vast distances, and the harsh weather, hard-date, enrolled-workshops weren't working. To graduate, a participant needs to complete all twelve workshops, but they aren't required to do them in order. Participation in the workshops increases the participant's success rate when applying to NRCS-EQIP towards acquiring a high-tunnel of their own and is also helping some apply for their own land with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
The team is also designing AT based around the simple garden and lawn tractors that are smaller and safer to operate than larger tractors and far easier to acquire via VR or smaller grants like S.A.R.E. Each incubator-hub site is looking to acquire one so that participants can learn hands-on how to operate the tractor itself safely and also how to safely attach the various implements (e.g., a tiller, disc cultivator, bucket, blade, small pull-behind dump trailer, and even a small back-hoe attachment). Added to the manufacturer's available implements, the team is also developing a PVC and conduit-based series of AT that will allow the installation of drip irrigation and the harvesting from gardens and high-tunnels easier.
Three members of the team participated in the Mental Health First Aid training offered at this year's NTW in Nebraska and they are working with another team member who will soon attend the train-the-trainer workshop and will be the main facilitator of the program on Pine Ridge. She is a licensed therapist with South Dakota State University and will be working closely with the tribal partners on culturally appropriateness.
The Tatanka Ki Owetu team is finalizing a review of USDA programs (after the new Farm Bill) and has developed a guide for beginning farmers with disabilities based on the USDA's large array of programs. This guide will be useable on any reservation and is mostly based around small acreage operations and to assist those living at or below poverty level. It is designed around grants first, technical assistance and cost-share programs next, and micro-loans last. It will also include local, regional, and national assistive technology resources and farm aid organizations - things such as the how and why of soil and water testing - and will include a list of Tatanka Ki Owetu's partners and other support organizations on Pine Ridge. The team hopes to print the guide and have an electronic version available no later than the end of June. The team is also working on a guide about building high-tunnels that will assist clients looking to raise a high-tunnel in the high winds of the northern Great Plains. To date, the team hasn't found a manufacturer that makes a high tunnel that's truly strong enough to withstand the northern Great Plains' winds. This guide will contain all the things the team has learned over the last six high-tunnels, including low-cost AT and low-cost ways to strengthen and weatherize, etc., so any participants will have both of these guides to help them in their decision-making.
Submitted by Jason Schoch