On August 18th we welcomed the arrival of nearly 600 baby chicks to our demonstration farm. Warming systems called brooders were set up in the poultry house (or as we like to call it, the “chicken palace”), ready to keep the chicks warm in their new home. A system of this size is a drastic increase from the 60 chicks we had previously, and with this expansion we are going to also increase our ability to strengthen the local food system. Helping us make sure we are doing things correctly are our partners at Main Street Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating better, more equitable food systems.
“I came here for this visit to continue training local famers that have been engaging in our poultry centered regenerative agriculture,” says Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Main Street Project’s Chief Strategy Officer. “By bringing poultry into communities that are isolated, struggling with hunger, and can’t easily access food, we’re showing that the food people need doesn’t have to be imported –– it can be created by the community.”
The chickens serve multiple purposes in the system. Not only will these birds, known as Rhode Island Reds, but great egg layers, but they will also be good meat birds as well. And their natural supply of fertilization for the garden helps add nitrogen back into the soil, making it more capable of producing fresh fruits and vegetables. And although chickens are not a traditional Lakota food, their presence is a way to support a larger, culturally relevant food system.
“So much has changed, including our gastronomy and diets,” says Food Sovereignty Assistant, Ernest Weston Jr. “In order to reconnect to our food system we have to acknowledge what modernity means in tribal communities in terms of survival. These chickens are part of a regenerative system that will be a multifaceted tool for us.”
Poultry have served to be a successful tool for other indigenous communities as well. In fact, the system we are currently using is one that came from indigenous elders and community members in rural Guatemala. Reginaldo believes that is part of the reason the partnership between Thunder Valley CDC and Main Street Project has been such a natural fit –– the origins of community based work are rooted in meeting the needs of local people.
“The eventual goal is to create a larger system that keeps more local resources here,” says Reginaldo. “Even thinking about the grains that are grown locally that are typically exported –– sorghum, millet, winter wheat –– all of these are great for chickens. To keep them here rather than export them creates a stronger local food economy.”
There is a large amount of cattle and bison that also are exported from Pine Ridge, meaning that despite a very high rate of animal production, relatively little of that meat stays accessible to the local population. These chickens will provide a local option that eliminates the cost of transportation and cost required by other meats that much go elsewhere to be processed. The more items that stay local, from the grains to the chicken and the fresh garden produce, the more centralized the locus of control is for the local community in relation to their food security.
“These chickens will create a biodiversity that will result in very healthy soil for us to plant in, making our fruits and veggies healthier too. So even though chickens might not have been a traditional food item, bringing in this new addition puts our survival as human beings at the center of this system and reconnects us to our food sources. All these plants and animals are taking care of us.”