Book Excerpt: The Farm Then and Now

Back in the U.S., the participation on The Longest Walk established a number of contacts and led to long term friendships in Native American circles, opening the doors to future Plenty projects. One of the first to get traction was at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

The concept was simple: Help people take control of their lives and put their energy into something positive, a home garden.

The request for funds and assistance came from a resident on the rez who would go to the home of anyone wanting a garden and till their ground and providing seeds to get them started.

Image: Front, Tom Cook is the director of Plenty International’s garden project at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Tom first connected with The Farm on The Longest Walk in the late 1970’s.

The first year there were five, the next year 25 and by the fifth year over 200 people were raising their own vegetables in gardens throughout the reservation.

Plenty served as the conduit for funds from other larger nonprofits that wanted to help empower native peoples but did not have the direct connections to facilitate projects.
Image: Preparing dirt for the greenhouse on Pine Ridge.

Over the last twenty years Plenty has continued to nurture this relationship with Pine Ridge, sending teams of carpenters and students to build a house, do home repairs and to develop the infrastructure for a camp where volunteers could stay during their time on the reservation.

The work has served both needs, the desire help those who could used a helping hand and to give volunteers an opportunity to connect with something deeper, the link to a resonance with the earth and spirit that Indian people have carried for thousands of years.

Native Voices
The culmination of these experiences also made it possible for The Farm to be a tool for the voice of Native people.

In the late seventies, the community’s Book Publishing Company began printing and distributing the works of Indigenous authors in its catalog of titles.

Over the ensuing decades the number of books continued to expand until the company had an entire catalog dedicated to Native Voices, becoming one of the primary publishers for Native American authors in the world. The numbers are small, no million sellers here, but these books serve an important niche audience and keep the avenues open for the words of Native people to remain alive and relevant.

The Farm as a Tribe
It’s been estimated that around 5000 people have lived and spent significant time on The Farm community, most during the early communal years. The experience transformed people in a way that left them forever changed, a connection that persists as meaningful and real despite the passage of time.

At the time of the Changeover there were more than 1200 people living on The Farm and the breakdown of the communal economy caused the dispersal of hundreds far and wide.

But what has endured so many decades later goes beyond friendship.

Dictionaries define the word “tribe” as people with a common culture or character, a social structure that establishes links between families.”
Image: (right) Douglas Stevenson joins Native American Plenty volunteers staffing an ambulance on The Longest Walk, 1978

The Farm went beyond the hippie subculture to become a unique social experiment that created emotional bonds which remain alive in all who have been touched by their common connection.

It spans through multiple generations woven ever more tightly by the cross pollination of families through second generation marriages and subsequent grandchildren. In seeking ways to define these relationships the word “tribe” comes closest. Understanding The Farm as a tribe takes in both the strengths and the dysfunctional weaknesses that exist within families and tribal communities, recognizing that the relationships go beyond random even in their imperfection.

In that sense The Farm Community is seen by its tribe as the reservation, the sacred land which symbolizes the greater whole. The land serves as a unifying vessel which holds the memories, the dreams, and the energy of everything that has taken place within its boundaries.

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