A groundbreaking for a community garden was held last Friday, April 2, on Stilwell property owned by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
The UKB recently received a $32,000 grant from the First Nations Development Institute of Longmont, Colorado. This award will support efforts of the UKB’s Traditional Community Garden and incorporate youth and elders in a collaboration to educate, provide community support efforts, hard work, and promote cultural preservation.
And it will help to provide fresh produce to community members, youth, and elder programs, as well as development of a seed bank for future sustainability.
The UKB Office of Environmental Services will be facilitator of the project.
“Our efforts will be to combine modern-day farming techniques with that of traditional farming techniques that Keetoowahs once conducted in the past,” said Whitney Warrior, OES director.
She applied for the grant in January 2021 to promote positive environmental stewardship.
“It gives elders a project – it’s elder-driven – to educate the youth from older teachers and for conservation and preservation, and it’s volunteer-based,” said.
The goal of the garden is not distribution, but to fulfill grant needs.
“We hope it will produce enough to distribute. We have about an acre of garden and will have greenhouses and raised beds. It will be pesticide-free, and we’ll have a composite and will recycle materials,” said Warrior.
The garden has been a dream of Warrior's to bring back cultural foods to the people. It’s the tribe’s first garden program, and she hopes it gets bigger and they can create a farm.
“We want the community to get involved and appreciate all donations and sponsorships,” she said.
In the future, classes – such as canning, using traditional plants, and propagation – are planned, as well as a seed bank.
“Last year, we started a seed bank. We’ll buy some seeds and are doing a seed exchange with the Eastern Band of Cherokees, and we’ll start some of those seeds. We will exchange some of the seeds from this garden with the Eastern Band that they don’t have, like medicine plants,” she said.
Chief Joe Bunch tilled the ground for the garden. Frankie Still, Flint District representative, helped with cleaning. And the Greasy community is donating time to help get the garden ready.
“Culturally speaking, in the past, we all grew up with a garden. In this uncertain future, we all need to be prepared. It’s nutritious, and when you grow your own, you have no added chemicals. It’s all about helping to support the community and bring people together,” said Bunch.
Mayor Jean Ann Wright was on hand for the groundbreaking.
“Anytime you raise culturally significant foods and teach others about them, it’s always a great thing,” Wright said.