Wind River Grow Our Own 307
A year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and necessities became scarce, Darrah Perez-Good Voice Elk and Deneica Barrett started Wind River Grow Our Own 307. This year, the University of Wyoming Extension, the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP), and Fremont County Master Gardeners are partnering to help support the program.
“I saw COVID-19 as a wake-up call,” Perez-Good Voice Elk said. “I said to Deneica, ‘We need to start growing our own food.’”
UW Extension and CNP are eager to be a part of this work and helping the community continue to grow despite the impact of COVID-19.
“The Fremont County Master Gardeners and UWE are always excited to work and contribute towards efforts like Grow Our Own, that encourage more people in the community to become involved in gardening and producing their own food,” said Chance Marshall, Fremont County Extension Educator.
Grow Our Own started out as a way for Perez-Good Voice Elk and Barrett to address the COVID-19 crisis by helping family, friends, and neighbors learn skills to become more self-sufficient. Perez-Good Voice Elk had some experience with gardening from her involvement in past gardening projects on the Wind River Indian Reservation. What Perez-Good Voice Elk and Barrett didn’t know they learned through research and trying things out. Last year, they used Zoom to teach and learn about gardening, as well as how to make kombucha and salsa.
“The really important aspect about our program is that we bring in a bunch of different people who have different mindsets and who have different ways of doing things,” Perez-Good Voice Elk said. “By learning from different people we find things that stick for us, and work for us, and so that’s kind of interesting and it keeps it fun, because you always are learning something that you didn’t know.”
This year, the Zoom classes will continue, beginning April 25. UW Extension, Fremont County Master Gardeners, and CNP have volunteered to be involved in some of the educational aspects of the program, and to provide expertise, seeds, and other supplies.
“UW Extension Fremont County Master Gardener volunteers will support the Grow Our Own program by providing plants, seeds, and soil to help fill the garden boxes,” said Christ Hilgert, UW Extension Master Gardener Program Statewide Coordinator and Horticulture Specialist.
“In addition to helping provide and distribute materials for the garden boxes and offer educational opportunities, the Fremont County Master Gardeners and UWE will be available to answer questions and help mentor new gardeners to help them be successful,” added Marshall.
CNP will provide recipes to go along with the vegetables families are growing and help them enjoy their harvest.
“That’s one of the things that’s going on, is how to use your vegetables, because a lot of people don’t eat squash and it grows like crazy out here,” said Billie Spoonhunter, CNP educator on the Wind River Indian Reservation. “I didn’t know how to use it, and last year I was given squash at the farmers market and I got some recipes from Kelly Pingree [a past CNP educator].”
Some of these recipes from the CNP cookbook will be passed onto families at harvest time. Through CNP, Spoonhunter also contributed seeds for some garden starter kits, which went out with the first garden boxes at the beginning of March.
“Growing your own food is a great way to increase access to healthy foods and physical activity. It helps get people connected to nature and improves mental and physical health. This is a great partnership and CNP is looking forward to helping community members work towards self-sufficiency,” said Mindy Meuli, UW Cent$ible Nutrition Program Director.
Grow Our Own has given out 150 garden boxes to anyone in Fremont County who has a need and wants to garden. Funding for the boxes has come from private donors, a grant from the Wyoming Hunger Initiative, the Riverton Peace Mission, the Wyoming Interfaith Network, and the Presbyterian Church of Laramie.
Perez-Good Voice Elk, Barrett, and nine volunteers, including Spoonhunter, built all the boxes by hand. Joseph Myers, Perez-Good Voice Elk’s brother, and Jared Mosqueda, her cousin, work for Northern Arapaho Housing, and taught Perez-Good Voice Elk and Barrett how to build the boxes, and they shared the skills with the volunteers.
Getting soil to fill the boxes has been a challenge after an initial funding source fell through. CNP, UW Extension Master Gardeners program, and Wind River Indian Reservation Extension are contributing funds to purchase bags of soil for each box. The Master Gardener program will also provide seedlings for the garden boxes, which will help new gardeners get their plants off to a strong start.
“The transplants are a little more forgiving than planting from seeds, especially in Wyoming when you never know when it’s going to snow again,” said Hilgert.
The Master Gardener greenhouse in Riverton will help provide the seedlings.
“Food sovereignty and fighting food scarcity is a really big thing, especially for the native people,” said Perez-Good Voice Elk. “It’s a really big project here [on the Wind River Indian Reservation] and we can’t do it alone, and so we’re finding that we have to have all these programs and people on the same page for the goal to be met.”
You can follow the project on the Grow Our Own Facebook page.