Thunder Valley Brings Honeybees to the “Good Food” Fight

pepper in hand banner

Thunder Valley Community Development Corp. adopted a powerful Food Sovereignty Initiative. A hive of honeybees has landed to help Thunder Valley win the “good food” fight.

  • Thunder Valley wants community gardens – organic community gardens;
  • They’re aiming for agricultural self-reliance amid a food desert;
  • They want to teach community youth about sustainable agriculture …

Bring on the bees and let the oomph bee-verberate!


Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation recently launched a Food Sovereignty Initiative to create a healthy local food system on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation located in Southwest South Dakota. This Lakota reservation is a food desert and the closest grocery store is 90 miles away.

Thunder Valley Is A Winner!

As one of the recipients of the 2016 Sponsor-A-Hive awards program funded by readers like you, Thunder Valley has advanced toward achieving the goals outlined in the community’s “Food Sovereignty Initiative.”

In short, Thunder Valley and honeybees are partnering up to:

  1. build sustainable change and
  2. put an end to poverty on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The plan centers on applying indigenous innovation to housing construction, food, community gardens, and organic farming on the 34-acre Thunder Valley CDC demonstration farm.

In their Sponsor-A-Hive application, Thunder Valley explained their initiative this way:

Thunder Valley CDC recently launched a Food Sovereignty Initiative. We will create a healthy local food system on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation located in southwest South Dakota. The mission is ‘Empowering Lakota youth and families to improve the health, culture, and environment of our communities through the healing and strengthening of cultural identity.’ 

This reservation is a food desert. The closest grocery store is 90 miles away. There is a high level of diabetes and health issues related to the lack of food access. The Food Sovereignty Initiative begins with the small demonstration farm, which we can scale up and repeat in every community on the reservation.

This community garden has been influential in teaching the community — especially the youth — about local food production. We were able to feed over 100 families with this community garden and it was planted and maintained by 10 high school students.

Bring on the Bees!

“The bee house is a key next step in this initiative. Bees play a crucial role in developing a food system through pollination to increase food production,” Welch explains.

“We will use the bee house to enhance our community garden and also as an educational resource. Education is a pillar of our food sovereignty initiative. We host local schools on our demonstration farm. We use the community garden to engage students in growing local produce. It would be a huge contribution to our community to be able to produce and give out local honey. In the creation of a local food system, bees and a bee house are an important part to the success of this initiative.”

Thunder Valley installing their %22Buffalo Bees%22

The team at Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (TVCDC) installing their “Buffalo Bees”

More About the Food Sovereignty Initiative

Thunder Valley CDC aims to increase access to healthy foods through the creation of a scalable and viable food systems. In 2014, the Food Sovereignty Initiative pinpointed three strategies to improve food access on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

  • The Small Demonstration Farm serves as a model and education center at Thunder Valley CDC by engaging youth in the planning and harvest of food. This model includes a greenhouse, poultry unit, and bees, each offering a hands-on learning experience for the community to be reengaged with food production and consumption.
  • Lakota Food Sovereignty Coalition is a reservation-wide collaboration between food producers, processors, transporters, financial supports, sellers, and consumers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Currently 95% of food consumed on the reservation is transported from off-reservation sources. The Coalition intends to create strategies for restoring and reconstructing a functional local food system with the main components within a 300-mile radius.
  • The community garden expresses Thunder Valley’s commitment to local food production. A one-third acre plot of organically grown produce provides local residents with access to fresh, organic produce.

Bees Pollinate and Educate

The garden also provides an educational space for community members to experience all the phases of the growing process. By creating a welcoming space for people to experience gardening, ask questions of experienced staff, share expertise, and taste delicious produce right out of the ground, the garden creates an opportunity for local community members to empower themselves through deeper engagement with their local food system. The garden serves as a resource and model for anyone inspired to plant or expand upon a home garden, too.

Then …
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Wazí Aháŋhaŋ Oyáŋke in Lakota) is an Oglala Lakota Native American reservation. Originally included within the territory of the Great Sioux Reservation, Pine Ridge was established in 1889 in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border.

Thunder Valley’s garden and chicken coop (part of its food sovereignty work)

…And Now
Pine Ridge consists of 3,468.85 sq. miles of land area and is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Thunder Valley is spread on 34 acres, with 30 homes, retail places, four high schools, 13 elementary schools, and the one-acre demonstration farm.

Welch says the beehive is an essential component to educating youth and the community at large, as well as enhancing Thunder Valley’s gardens. All crops are organic. This summer, Thunder Valley reached out to 200 families (+/- 6 members per) and expects to have many more families involved in the years to come.

She notes that the honey produced by the bees will likely be given to families and volunteers, as well as sold at the local stores. Thus, Thunder Valley will encourage sustainability and demonstrate the results of community commitment and involvement.

The Sponsor-A-Hive Bee Kit

Thunder Valley bees arriveAs part of its Sponsor-a-Hive grant, Thunder Valley received the honeybees, their hive, the beginning beekeeper equipment, and Orren Fox’s popular how-to manual, Do Beekeeping: The Secret to Happy Honey Bees.

The HBC Sponsor-A-Hive kit is designed to help the uninitiated-but-determined beekeepers get started. Accordingly, the Thunder Valley community has few doubts about the initiative’s success.

“This is a show-me place, people have to see it to believe,” says Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe member, Lenny Lone Hill.

A Thunder Valley representative puts it this way: “This bee house will be a very influential piece of the community development we are developing. The strategies we use here will be able to be repeated throughout the Pine Ridge Reservation as we work to create economic development and access to food for our community.”

Bring on the bees!



  1. Patricia L. Antolic says

    I support this 100%. I have always said something like this should be implemented everywhere to combat hunger.

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