Organic Farming Supported by Oglala Lakota CollegeAug 15th, 1993 | By jgrayreddish | Category: 5-2: Leadership, Tribal College News
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.”