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Donna Adrian

Donna Adrian
Donna Adrian

Eminent Leader in Agriculture, Family, and Community

County: Stanley

As a woman immersed in agriculture, the work of Donna Adrian’s hands is clear in many of the activities in her town, her county and her state.

Adrian grew up in a family involved in farming/ranching near White River and attended business college in Rapid City. She married Bill Adrian in 1962 and moved to his ranch in Stanley County. Four years later, they moved to Bill’s homeplace, southwest of the town of White River.

She and Bill lived on the ranch until 1987, then moved to White River to be on better roads to accommodate their family trucking business. They have a family cow/calf operation. Bill at 82, is still riding horseback 10 to 15 miles checking cattle. During the summer months, they take in and pasture steers.

"Family members have cattle with ours and help on bigger jobs,” Adrian shared. “We also have a commercial trucking business. Son Chuck and family moved back from Rapid City this year to help. Daughter Colette Kessler is in Pierre and she and her family also ride and help. Son Kenny has his own trucking business, doing heavy haul for oil fields in North Dakota. The family of our son Jeff (who is deceased) also help.”

She said, “I got started in volunteering when I took the SDSU Extension Master Gardener class in 1997 in White River. Jeff was the County Extension Agent, and he asked me to sign up so he would have at least one person in the class. I think we ended up with 32 and many of us still meet once a month.”

Passing on her knowledge to her grandkids is second nature to Adrian. “When I had the grandkids, they’d go gardening with me. I taught garden classes all over the Rosebud Reservation and they’d go with me. I’d include them in small things so they’d feel involved, not so much to make them work but to appreciate what needed to be done.”

Those skills expanded with time. In a small town, there are lots of roles to fill. “For several years, I was on the Frontier Days Parade Committee. I’d set up the parade, then ride on the float, jump off and help at the community dinner and then when that was done, would work in the Lions Concession stand.”

The best thing she believes she can teach others is to communicate with people. There are many ways to benefit the ag industry and ways to improve the community.

For several years, Adrian wrote garden articles for the south-central area newspapers. This year, she posts items to Facebook highlighting community garden activities. “I really think we are reaching more people with this avenue.”

She says growing food without tilling and square-foot gardening are some of the best practices and techniques she’s tried. She is now teaching others to be successful in growing their own food. “Many think gardens have to be long, beautiful tilled rows of bare soil. It is hard to change the mindset of how to garden. but I find the soil responds to this treatment and it is less work. My motto is ‘less weeds, less work and less water’.”

She has planned and completed individual and community gardens in many Native American reservations and communities in south-central South Dakota, most of which are considered food deserts. Besides starting the garden projects, she teaches classes on how to care for gardens and how to harvest and can produce. One project is the REDCO Food Sovereignty Initiative. Adrian was on the ground floor in planning the project and then acting as a consultant. Last year she started an educational community garden on main street of White River to show various methods of gardening and gardening options that do not require a tiller and acre of land.

When asked what best prepared her to be a leader, Adrian answered: “Probably, my secretarial background. I learned to write the minutes at a meeting, write articles for newspapers, and I was self-taught on the computer. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person than comfortable standing in front of people.” She advises others, “Show up and help plan things you want to see done. If events get planned, they will materialize and people will get involved.”

Seeing a completed project provides great satisfaction to Adrian. "It's great to look at improvement made in the community and know I had a little part in it."