During World War II, victory gardens were an important source of food for American families. Since 2011, there has been a growth of similar gardens on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation to help mitigate the impact of the food desert there.
Oregon State University Extension Service recognized the need for long-term food security on the reservation, and has worked continuously with the tribal leaders to develop and care for three community learning gardens.
The Warms Springs/OSU Community Learning Gardens demonstrate how community members can grow healthy produce and reduce their food bills. With the closest grocery store 15 miles away in Madras, the gardens also reduce travel costs.
The learning gardens are located in areas where they are easily seen by tribal members. Learning Gardens #1 and #2 are located by the old elementary school (now the Boys & Girls Club). Learning Garden #3 will be at the Warm Springs K-8 Academy. Interest and curiosity has sparked young and elders alike to regularly visit the gardens.
Learning Garden #1 includes raised garden vegetable boxes, blueberry bushes, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes, an herb spiral, cherry trees and flower beds. Learning Garden #2 includes raised garden vegetable boxes, an apple tree orchard, grape plants, blueberry bushes, annual and perennial flower beds. Huckleberry bushes and additional pollinator flower beds will be added.
The learning gardens provide an outdoor classroom for tribal members. Since they were created, nearly 40 classes and one end-of-the-year event have taken place at Learning Gardens #1 and #2. About 30 children learned gardening skills and soil health. Twenty after-school gardening classes plus Rise & Shine Garden Classes for 48 students were conducted at the elementary school’s learning garden. Adult classes focused on gardening skills and preparing healthy family meals. Plans are in place to add a demonstration orchard to teach commercial small farm best practices.
Over the years, OSU Extension-facilitated grant funds supplied deer fencing, raised bed garden supplies, gardening equipment, seeds and plants. In 2019, a water line rupture on the reservation resulted in a complete water outage for the area and prompted the need for supplementary water to maintain the gardens, berry plants and orchards. A grant from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation paid for a 500-gallon tank that was filled daily with Opal Springs Water at OSU’s Central Oregon Agriculture Research and Extension Center and transported 12 miles to the garden sites so that the gardens could continue to be used for classes and meetings.
OSU Extension implemented a grant to offer STEM-in-the-Garden classes for youth, which generated enthusiasm to explore, inquire and investigate in a garden environment.
There are about 4,300 tribal members on the reservation. If 25 percent of the population grew their own food and each garden saved $500 a year in food costs, a potential $538,250 annual savings would come to tribal members.
Between 50 and 114 pounds of fresh produce was provided to youth learning garden participants and the Warm Springs Children Protective Services last year. Additional goals are to provide fresh produce to the school salad bar and community elders.