Raising Gardens for all Families

Growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Billy Mills learned firsthand the critical importance of gardens: they can help keep people from going hungry.

Currently, the single largest source of food on reservations is government surplus commodities, like cheese and peanut butter. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, many people depend on these commodities for their very survival. Unfortunately, these commodities are often high in sodium and sugar and rarely include vegetables. And hunger and malnutrition are serious problems.

Billy's efforts have helped to change that. He has helped raise enough money to fund a gardening program called the Slim Buttes Agricultural Development Program. In 15 years, the program has grown from half a dozen gardens to over 400 gardens.

At Pine Ridge, the families are provided with land, seeds and advice. The gardening program runs education programs, helps with ground preparation and tilling, seed distribution and seedling production. Plus, wells were dug to provide irrigation which is critical in this dry part of the country. As a result, hundreds of families now grow fresh, healthy produce for themselves. In the fall, mentors help families learn how to can and store vegetables for the winter.

The gardens help make sure people have food, even when they don't have any money. Plus gardens help people connect with each other and with the earth.

Billy Mills is known internationally for the gold medal he won in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics. Now he uses his success 40 years ago to help improve the lives of other Native Americans. He is a spokesperson for Running Strong for Indian Youth, raising money and speaking all over the country.

"His work is to help stamp out the suffering and starvation of America's 'Poorest of the Poor'," wrote Roberta D'Orazio in nominating him for the Garden Crusader Award. "The planting and harvesting of these gardens helps to lead these people out of starvation, helps to reunite families through hard work shared together, and helps to restore pride and self sufficiency."

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Last updated: 01/05/2021