Organic Farming Supported by Oglala Lakota College

Aug 15th, 1993 | By | Category: 5-2: Leadership, Tribal College News
By Jennifer Gray Reddish

Oglala Lakota College is taking part in the growing organic farming movement by joining in a unique part­nership with Bonn University in Germany. Working together, they are learning to to grow a better tomato, as well as build a bridge between the vastly different cultures.

The program began in the late 1980’s after Leonard Little Finger, a tribal mem­ber with an interest in organic gardening, wrote to Dr. Weltzein at the University of Bonn about his organic gardening ideas. Intrigued, Dr. Weltzein visit­ed Little Finger, and the idea of an international exchange was born.

In summer 1991, Martin Baumgart traveled from Germany to spend three weeks on the reservation teaching cover cropping and compost making. By that fall, the organic gar­dening group arranged for the program to be part of the Oglala Lakota College curriculum.

The first college-spon­sored exchange program occurred in summer 1992. Taught by Baumgart, five German and nine Lakota students took part, earning an 18 credit-hour certifi­cate of completion. That fall, several Lakota stu­dents traveled for three weeks to various organic agricultural farms in Germany via DAAD (translated in English to German Academic Foreign Exchange Program), an organization that funds international exchange programs.

In summer 1993, the organic garden program grew into a two-year applied science degree. Courses cover organic gar­dening skills, general sci­ence, business, English, Lakota studies and animal science.

However, the German-Lakota program has gener­ated more than just acade­mic learning. It also emphasizes cultural under­standing.

As Leslie Rae Henry, director of the organic gar­dening program at Oglala College, states: “The inter­action between the Germans and the Lakota people the first year was interesting. Initially, the German students were shocked about the condi­tions [on the reservation]. There also were cultural differences in work ethic.”

The “work-a-holic” German students did not understand the Lakota stu­dents who tended “to watch and adapt those work techniques that work best for them rather than following everything exactly,” Henry says.

However, Henry points out that by the end of the first three week session, the students interacted much like a family.

“Towards the end of the session, both groups had picked up characteristics from the other culture. For instance, the Germans were more relaxed if ideas they offered were not adopted right away.”

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