“It's never a Me thing. It's a We thing”
Roberta Eaglehorse-Ortiz (Oglala Lakota/Yomba Shoshone) is the founding farmer and owner of Wombyn’s Wellness Garden. Although Roberta had never read a seed package when the Oregan Food Bank in Portland offered her a small plot of land five years ago, serving her community was nothing new. Roberta began helping her community as a doula. She is guided by something she likes to call “earthwork and birth work." Garden work has been a true manifestation and calling in Roberta’s life.
Roberta, a Native American woman, had a “fear” of societal pressures when she began gardening. She did not want people to assume she knew everything about gardening or the land because of her ancestry. The land that the city gave to Roberta did not come with supplies, a teacher, or even a tractor. She had to learn how to say, “I don’t know” and “I need help.” During her journey, Roberta remembers "giving up to the soil”, leading her to certain practices that she still honors today. Since its inception, the Wombyn’s Wellness Garden uses organic and regenerative practices. Healthy soil means healthy, pesticide-free food for a healthy community. Many of these techniques were invented and still used by Native and Indigenous communities across the US.
“As people watched me with their tractors and water hose… I didn’t know what tools to start with and didn’t have anyone to teach me.”
Roberta learns from intuition and experiences, sharing, “It was trial and error, and I didn’t write anything down. [I learned] through storytelling and experiences.” Portland, Oregon's rising temperatures forced Roberta to learn faster, because her “plants were melting." The extreme weather was a challenge, so Roberta joined Oregon State University’s dry farming collective and learned how to dry farm. She began to see the heat as an opportunity to see what would grow resiliently in 118 degrees. As a result, she was still able to grow a significant amount of produce for her community.
Roberta’s community impacts go far and wide. Wombyn’s Wellness Garden partners, for example, with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Roberta personally delivers supplies to families and offers virtual cooking classes with a Native American nutritionist. Many of these classes incorporate native foods that Roberta grows herself.
Every time there is a new crop rotation, the Wombyn’s Wellness Garden hosts a sale to allow the community to come and buy starter plants. This way, folks in the community can grow alongside the garden, interacting with each other on social media to learn more and see their mutual progress. This brings feelings of joy and shared success to the community.
“Even though I love people buying my products, I love for people to grow their own.”
What’s next for the Wombyn’s Wellness Garden?
Roberta recognizes the importance of landownership for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and hopes to move into a new space of her own soon. She explained that "it is the greatest gift to be a family of color and own property... I never thought I would be here.” She advocates for members of her community to have access to their own land as well. Roberta wants her space to reflect her culture. When she owns her own land, Roberta can bring ceremonies, sing traditional songs, and create a sacred space for births and passing.