PINE RIDGE, South Dakota — A rainstorm had washed away his entire potato crop in a single deluge just days before, but Milo Yellow Hair ducked into a greenhouse made of a sturdy tarp and 2-by-4 wooden planks to survey a wide array of crops.
Tomato plants dangled from the ceiling in handmade growing pots, and basil, cilantro, beets, dill, zucchini, peppers, jalapeños and onions emerged from the dirt at his feet. Leaves and vines stretched out like fingers. The air was heavy with moisture, and thirsty mosquitoes swarmed at the open skin of his face and neck.
“Guess we’re growing mosquitoes here too,” he said with a laugh.
As the manager of the Slim Buttes Agriculture Project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota, he speaks of the land in a patient, steady voice, with the click of the Lakota language heard faintly in his English. As healthy eating trends have waxed and waned across the U.S. during the past 30 years, the Slim Buttes project has stayed afloat — barely at times, he confesses — but still alive and providing food to local Native Americans each year.