Although the concept of prime real estate is typically associated with the quip of “location, location, location,” the value of place reaches far beyond property. Place holds within itself defining elements such as history, culture, and community. It is this complexity and richness of a place that often holds the key to responsible development that serves those most impacted by potential change. So even in something as seemingly neutral as, say, planting trees, consideration must be given to place.
For example, in urban spaces the challenge with development is avoiding displacement and gentrification. Within rural settings with sparser populations, the idea of displacement can seem nonsensical, however, there is a history of displacement in South Dakota, and its impact extends beyond the governmental policies that physically displaced Native people. The flora and fauna that once thrived in this region now are dwarfed by herds of cattle and seas of mono-cropped fields. And the historic interconnectedness of Native communities to the environment means that restoring ourselves also requires restoring our environment. That is why our Food Sovereignty Initiative planted over one hundred chokecherry, buffaloberry, and plum trees this month.
“Why plant something else when we already know what will take to the soil here?” says Ernest Weston, the Food Sovereignty Initiative Assistant. “We know we’ll see success with these plant varieties’ growth, and that they will help our other food work succeed as well.”
These plants will serve as both gentle shelter and a food supply for our egg-laying chickens. While chickens are not indigenous to the area, they are an approachable, small scale food project that helps to restore a local food system and by nature, strengthen the land and local economy. The inclusion of chickens is a way to provide a model that others can replicate. Whether utilized by a small family or large institution, this scalable food system can be tailored to meet the needs of anyone interested in producing their own food.
“It’s all about…what’s that buzzword? Synergy?” laughs Ernest. “These trees will feed people, the chickens, and the soil. The chickens provide fertilizer for the trees to have rich soil. I’ve only watered them a handful of times and they’re already taking root.”
These trees are also all traditional Lakota foods, inherently connected to the local population. Numerous community members will have memories of collecting chokecherries with their grandparents or making buffaloberry wojapi (a traditional berry pudding). So in addition to being practical, these trees also have an historic, cultural connection to them, which makes their long-term success more likely. And with all or our work, these trees serve as a reminder for acknowledging local history and local wisdom as key to creating solutions that are most likely to “take root.”