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CWC student Deneica Barrett sits with her friend and co-founder Darrah Perez-Good Voice Elk on a bench holding plants

Central Wyoming College student Deneica Barrett was nominated for the 2020 Wyoming Women of Influence for her nonprofit work with Grow Our Own, a gardening group that helps people supply food for themselves. Barrett was both surprised and honored to be nominated and named a 2020 honoree. 

“I never imagined being an honoree,” she said. “I am still in shock and very, very grateful. This is something that means the world to me, to all of us at Grow Our Own.”

The pandemic that spurred Barrett to create something the community needed ultimately led to her nomination. Barrett was working with her friend, Darrah Perez-Good Voice Elk, also a Wyoming of Influence nominee, at Visioning B.E.A.R., a local healing circle that focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault, when the pandemic hit.

“Our work came to a close right after Covid changed everything,” Barrett said. “Nobody knew what was happening or what would come of it.” 

The circle stopped meeting, but Barrett wasn’t sidelined for long. When she and Perez noticed how much of the area had shut down, they immediately jumped into action.

“We brainstormed different ideas to help our community,” Barrett said.

The two women started talking about growing their own food after Perez was unable to purchase produce from the grocery store. 

“Neither of us had any idea on how to be successful at gardening,” Barrett said. “We got in touch with a few ladies who were in Visioning B.E.A.R. and asked if they wanted to attempt it with us.”

Barrett and Perez provided those who were interested with seeds. The group called themselves Wind River Grow Our Own 307, and they soon coined their own catchphrase.

The team developed the business motto "Learn as we go, Learn as we grow.” With none of us being experts in gardening, we learned the basics from other local food producers, local gardeners and professionals ”

Grow Our Own has learned to take advantage of different forms of technology to reach Fremont County members. The group’s usage of video, audio and written communication is a testament to their resourcefulness in a time that calls for social distancing.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shaped how technology can have a positive impact on a community,” Barrett said.

Since April 2020, members from the Wind River Reservation community and surrounding areas have had weekly Zoom meetings to learn about planting and harvesting. 

“Every Sunday, we were able to learn a new bit of information about gardening and growing food,” Barrett said.

The group began with strawberries, before branching out into potatoes, corn, beans and squash. With the help of numerous funders, the team was able to make a huge impact.

“For the 2020 growing season, we were able to build a total of 55 garden boxes,” Barrett said. “We were able to reach 100 families with a gardening starter kit which included topsoil, gardening tools, containers, and seeds.”

Grow Our Own is open to everyone who gardens in the community, and Barrett has used the program to foster a real sense of community.

“We treat our participants as family and continue to share the love of gardening by encouraging more of our communities to grow food from the seed of fruits and vegetables,” she said.

The group intends to maximize their efforts in the next year. Grow Our Own 307 will use locally purchased pine wood to build 100 more garden boxes for program members in 2021. They also hope to provide 100 starter kits, which include garden tools, topsoil, and support services. Barrett also wants to expand her group’s outreach by teaming up with other local programs like the Tree Project. 

“Through collaborative efforts with additional community programs, the learning of knowledge can be taught and documented on a wide scale through multimedia outlets,” she said.

While at CWC, Barrett has benefited from mentors on campus as well.

“I appreciate the friendly staff, the instructors I’ve had all felt like family,” she said.

Barrett is currently taking Tarissa Spoonhunter’s Indian Law course. Because this class is part of the college’s new bachelor transfer program, the instructor said it can be a bit of a challenge for students. However, Spoonhunter said Barrett is a standout.

“She’s very motivated, not only as a student but in the local community,” Spoonhunter said. “She does things that not everyone would.”

Spoonhunter said she admires Barrett’s ability to apply the content of her coursework on a larger scale, especially because the Western education system tends to emphasize individualism.

“She’s embraced the class,” Spoonhunter said. “It’s given her perspective on issues like food sovereignty and has allowed her to make connections between her tribal worldview and being a successful student.” 

When Barrett earns her degree at CWC, her involvement with the community is far from over.

“After graduation, I plan on devoting most of my time to Grow Our Own and finding other solutions to assist the people with our community,” she said. “We have so many ideas and plans to grow and expand beyond gardening.”

Barrett said her nomination for Wyoming Women of Influence reminds her of the group’s purpose. The 2020 Wyoming Women of Influence Honorees were featured in the October Wyoming Business Report publication.

“My mother Mary Rose Goggles taught me that it’s always better to give than receive,” she said. “We have so much more to give back to our community, and so much more work to do.”

Barrett would like to thank Riverton Peace Mission, Wyoming Interfaith Network, Wyoming Community Foundation, Wind River Farm to Plate, The United Presbyterian Church of Laramie, Private Donor Celeste Myers, All volunteers and her fiance, Kevin Liu.