New orchard latest food sovereignty project for Earth Tipi on Pine Ridge

June 27, 2011

New orchard latest food sovereignty project for Earth Tipi on Pine Ridge

Making a difference on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota was probably not the initial dream of a very young Shannon Freed from Palo Alto, CA. As a girl she knew she wanted to help people - as in her passing out the contents of her piggy bank to the homeless.

Her passion grew into adulthood and has come a long way. Now in her 30s, the progressive projects she's involved with today include planting a fruit orchard 2.35 miles south of Manderson, SD, on the Pine Ridge Reservation and building sustainable houses.

Through social media and persistence, her non-profit organization Earth Tipi won the orchard with nearly 30,000 votes through an online contest with Edy's Fruit Bars brand. The food company partnered with the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation to develop Communities Take Root, "a program to provide fresh fruit orchards in dozens of communities across the United States." Contestants have to be in the top five in order to win an orchard, which is solely based on daily votes from the public.

"It was my goal to win the first round for two reasons: One, there is a Chinese proverb, that says 'The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and second best time is now' so I wanted to plant as soon as possible," Ms. Freed said. "Second, I knew we really could do a lot of marketing to get people into it and find other nations to support them winning [an orchard] too ... We did a lot with social media and looked for pages with several 'likes.' We went to for-profits and non-profits and blasted Facebook."

One of the images Earth Tipi used during the voting process for the orchard featuring children of the Pine Ridge Reservation

Earth Tipi will begin planting the approximately 45-tree fruit orchard on June 29. There will even be Tanka buffalo hotdogs on hand for volunteers to enjoy. Although there are "quite a few volunteers," Ms. Freed said, they could always use more. The non-profit is looking for a minimum of one volunteer for every two trees.

To get through the impeding weather, Earth Tipi will use permaculture techniques such as creating microclimates to create an optimal environment for the trees.

How Earth Tipi got started

buffaloThe result of her seemingly instinctive need to help led Ms. Freed to Wounded Knee, SD, in 2006 to help build a cob house, which is a structure made from a mixture of clay, sand, straw, water, and earth. She brought experience in permaculture, farming and cob-house building with her. Although Ms. Freed's partnership with the project didn't work out as planned, she met her husband Adam and got to know his father Gerald Weasel and family.

The family's previous home burned down but they didn't have the resources to build a home of their own, on their own land, as they hoped. By 2008, after her daughter Raven was born, Ms. Freed got busy trying to find a way to make the Weasels' dream happen. She contacted Coenraad Rogmans from House Alive, a company that teaches workshops about natural building and asked him if he would host a workshop in Manderson to build a cob house for Mr. Weasel.

"[Cob houses] have a totally superior building style. Highly energy-efficient and economical, if planned right," Ms. Freed said. "I wanted to demonstrate that to the community. It's something that I really connect with; it matches with my spirituality and views on the world and environment."

Even though Mr. Rogmans agreed to do the workshop, there were still funds needed and from there Earth Tipi was born, formally known as Sustainable Home Designs. Most of the materials needed were free but they still needed to be transported.
"We had to figure out a way to raise gas money so we built a website and started networking," she said.

Everything came together in July 2010 and after the home was finished, Ms. Freed decided that even though the project was ultimately for her family, she saw potential for growth. And the home that they finished was to act as a model for it.

The Weasel family's cob house.

"I never intended to take it much further than that [the finished home]. But once it was over, I was inspired to replicate the project and do it for other people," she said.

Support has come from all over, including the donation of nine evergreen trees for wind block and two shade trees from Trees Water People for the garden being planted on the Weasel family's land. They also received support from Village Earth as their fiscal sponsor so that they can operate under at 501(c)(3) status. Village Earth gives guidance and support for fundraising as well as help with donations and bookkeeping.

Next challenge ahead

Now Earth Tipi is also focused on helping a man named Walter build a new home using pallets with the help of David Reed of Texas Natural Builders. She met Mr. Reed through Facebook.

"For two years, I've watched Walter try to build a house. I kept thinking, 'Someone should help this guy.' It was always in the back of my head and out of nowhere, like someone else was typing, I asked David, 'Want to come out here and build a house out of pallets?' she said."

Trying to contact Walter wasn't easy at first, but eventually Calvin White Butterfly of the Wounded Knee Tiospaye Project connected the dots and Mr. Reed made a plan. They have already gathered the 200 pallets they need to build a home but they are now working on a social media initiative to raise money for the other materials needed such as wood and metal for the roof, electrical and plumbing -- of which are the most expensive aspects of the project.

They will begin building July 23 and the estimated cost of the project is $10,000. Earth Tipi is looking for sponsors and each sponsor that contributes $25 or more will have their name placed on a pallet and a photo of the pallet on the Earth Tipi website.

Ms. Freed is aware that such a project is a large undertaking, but she remains hopeful.

"I'm just doing what comes naturally," she said. "If we all can be more mutually supportive, we can get more people involved."

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