By Clara Sandberg, St. Joseph Worker
A warm summer breeze makes the corn leaves rustle like there’s a wild animal hiding in them, but the kids don’t notice. They are listening to the Master Gardener tell about indicator plants.
“When the gooseberry leaves come out, then it’s time to plant corn,” she explains, using age-old indigenous wisdom to teach a new generation of gardeners.
The youth, who have come from rough neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul, have also learned about harvesting and marketing the vegetables they plant at the small farm in Hugo, MN. They’re part of a program called Dream of Wild Health that works to bring urban Native Americans back into a healthier, more traditional lifestyle through indigenous food and education. The program at the farm provides an active learning environment for the kids to gain experience in organic gardening, nutrition, preventing diabetes and obesity, Native culture, and leadership. In a way, it’s empowering the youth to speak from their hearts, to be respectful, proactive leaders in their community, as well as reconnecting them with the land that has shaped their people and their culture. The Creator has given them this Earth, and all the teachings they need to live a good life.
The spirit that surrounds the farm and all its work reflects this belief. When visitors come out to the farm, they see this encouraging spirit at work. Every morning is begun with a smudging, or a spiritual cleansing, and a prayer invoking the ancestors. There is a short cultural lesson, and then the youth are divided into work rotations. Some work in the gardens, weeding or harvesting vegetables for market. Others do chores in the house and help prepare lunch, which is always a feast of fresh garden goodies and traditional foods such as blueberries, wild rice, and venison. But when asked, the kids are most grateful simply for the fact that they can be there, someplace out of the city and away from their daily lives, which are often filled with poverty, broken families, and violence.
In trying to reclaim some of their lost traditions, Native people around the country face difficulties in confronting a history fraught with racial discrimination and systemic injustice. The Sisters of St. Joseph, through their Native American Awareness Task Group, work to educate and promote justice in cooperation with the Twin Cities Native community. Their work with Dream of Wild Health varies from volunteering in the garden to doing historical research, to teaching the kids how to make animal figures out of clay, to supporting the project through the St. Joseph Worker program. The Sisters realize that the dream behind Dream of Wild Health—providing healthy foods and traditional medicines—complements their own ministries in education and healthcare and parallels the Sisters’ value of community, renewing cultural traditions and agricultural knowledge amongst urban Natives. The Sisters of St. Joseph put their mission into direct practice in their work with Dream of Wild Health. Showing respect for creation and the original inhabitants of this area is an integral part of showing love for God and neighbor without distinction.
And as the wind continues to rustle the corn stalks at the farm, carrying with it the sounds of children laughing, the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph can also be heard, working for justice and understanding. As the youth at Dream of Wild Health learn about the cycles of growth and harvest, how the Earth renews its land and people, the same spirit of renewal is at work in their lives and communities.
For more information about Dream of Wild Health and the work they do, please visit their website: http://dreamofwildhealth.org