Janelle Brandon, SheSays Contributor, Published July 04 2012
Holding Eagle encourages community to grow
Maya Khadka, 23, of Fargo, is just one of the 40 New American families receiving food she helped plant and is now tending.
“My baby,” says Maya Khadka pointing to her swollen middle. “July 27.” Born in Bhutan, Maya Khadka speaks very little English. When asked what her favorite vegetable is to grow and eat, she answers simply, “Tomatoes.”
Across the garden, Meena Sharma, who came to Fargo in 2008 from Bhutan, works as head housekeeper at Fargo’s Holiday Inn and Suites. But gardening comes naturally to her. She and her family farmed vegetables and rice in Bhutan.
“Our family sold the rice and vegetables from our field,” says Sharma. “We farm differently. We use animals to help us work,” she says pointing to the rows of gardeners weeding by hand or with tools in the LSS Garden.
Near the newly sprouted carrot tops, Jamie Holding Eagle, a volunteer in the garden, weeds her area in a gray skirt, tank top and combat boots. An unlikely gardener just three years ago, a deeper look into her family history for a project at Minnesota State University Moorhead revealed Holding Eagle was a descendent of Scattered Corn, a skilled female horticulturalist and corn priestess for the Mandan tribe in the early 1900s.
Holding Eagle is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. Her great-great-grandmother Scattered Corn was the first female corn priestess for the Mandan. Scattered Corn held and blessed seeds and performed ceremonies for successful harvests on behalf of the tribe.
Just like her great-great-grandmother, Holding Eagle focuses on sourcing, saving, and using seeds locally. And now she’s helping others reclaim their place in the food chain through gardens that are planted and growing in yards, parks, vacant lots and schools throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“We don’t use nearly enough of our farmland,” says Holding Eagle. “We outsource food production, bring food in that’s traveled thousands of miles, and it seems unreasonable because we have the ability to do so much here.”
Holding Eagle, who holds degrees in American multicultural studies, biology, and women and gender studies from MSUM, became interested in urban agriculture and seed procurement after learning what her famed ancestor had accomplished.
“I used to be a professed black thumb,” says Holding Eagle. “When my daughter was a baby, I bought a small container herb garden. It got moldy so I threw it away. I didn’t try to grow anything again for years.” Last year, Holding Eagle attended a conference in White Earth, Minn., led by Anishinaabe author and activist, Winona LaDuke.
“She spoke about living in a post-petroleum economy,” recalls Holding Eagle. “She said that eventually we will all have to know how to grow our own food and eat seasonally and live sustainably to survive.” New ideas were taking root for Holding Eagle.
Last year, she planted a garden in her backyard and tomatoes and strawberries in her front yard. When one of Holding Eagle’s bright orange heirloom tomatoes was ripe on the vine, she made a sign pointing to the fruit that said, “Free!” so she could share the bounty with her neighbors.
“No one took it,” she says. “That really got me thinking that I need to do more to make gardens visible in our community.”
Holding Eagle became interested in gardening as an opportunity for youth involvement because she sensed that, increasingly, children have a disconnection with nature.
The research into school gardens is promising. According to www.kidsgardening.org, children have an increased interest and improved attitude toward fruits and vegetables, science scores go up, and social skills improve if children are involved in the growing process.
With Holding Eagle’s skills and school gardening on the rise, proposing the idea of a small-scale garden at Moorhead’s Ellen Hopkins Elementary School, where her two daughters attend, went over brilliantly with administration.
“The principal, Mary Jo Schmid, was really receptive to the idea,” she says. “The Ellen Hopkins school garden committee is wonderful. It’s a group that came together in a way you really hope for. Parents and teachers meet regularly and are really dedicated to helping this project develop.”
Moorhead High School shop class students made the raised beds for the Ellen Hopkins garden and the rain barrel was donated by a parent on the school garden committee. In addition, Seed Savers, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to saving and redistributing heirloom seeds and plants to maintain biodiversity within the food supply, donated the seeds for the school garden start-up.
Holding Eagle enjoys the time she spends with her own girls in the garden.
“My girls love to garden,” continues Holding Eagle. “Whether at the school garden or at home, they choose what they grow and they also tend their herbs and food.”
Urban gardener Novella Carpenter, a farmer and author living in Oakland, Calif., visited Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead last year to talk about her adventures in urban agriculture which she chronicled in her book, “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.”
“My mom always encouraged me to farm and write,” says Carpenter. “I had been gardening and keeping livestock for awhile before I felt like I was ready to write about it. I love telling stories, and ‘Farm City’ was my outlet.”
Carpenter encourages women and girls to take more control over how they receive their sources of food by teaching classes. She teaches beekeeping, goat tending, and cheese making in Oakland and speaks to students about urban farming across the nation.
“I think there’s an urge for ladies to learn these skills again,” continues Carpenter. “To create and care for plants and creatures that will feed you and your family. It gives a sense of empowerment when you control your food.” Holding Eagle agrees.
“Adults I know are unsure of themselves in gardens, and so if we start gardening as kids, I think there’s a stronger sense of ability,” says Holding Eagle.
“Gardening with anyone requires lots and lots of patience. I have winced watching a kid yank a transplant out of a pot, but she’s more likely to want to come back and help if I can show her a less destructive method than if I get upset and chase her out of the garden.”