Native Youth Teach Healthy Diets (Learning to Love Vegetables!)

Final Report for FNC08-740

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $5,952.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Diane Wilson
Peta Wakan Tipi
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Project Information


Dream of Wild Health is a 10-acre farm located in Hugo, Minnesota. We currently cultivate approximately 2 acres with a variety of organically grown vegetables. We have a collection of rare, heirloom seeds donated by Native families that we also grow out for purposes of seed preservation. Dream of Wild Health is a program of a St. Paul based nonprofit, Peta Wakan Tipi.

We are deeply interested in sustainable practices for our farm. With support from the SARE program, we have grown out a variety of our heirloom corn seeds, followed by this effort to stimulate our marketing with community education. We are currently working on a business plan that will help the farm become more sustainable financially.

Goals: For this grant, Dream of Wild Health developed a new marketing/outreach plan for its weekly youth-run Farmers Market in Minneapolis. Our goal was to increase our outreach efforts, support youth in teaching the urban Native community about the importance of fresh, organic produce as part of a healthy diet, and encourage participation and support for our Farmers Markets.

Each week throughout July and August the participants in our Garden Warriors program (ages 13-18) provide a weekly Farmers Market at a location convenient to the urban Native population in Minneapolis. Freshly picked produce is offered at low cost, with the understanding that many in our community cannot afford to buy fresh vegetables. We print flyers that the kids bring home to their families and promote the market on the Indian List Serve, an e-mail list that is widely used. The market not only provides produce to our target audience, it also has the potential for providing a source of earned income for the farm.

The problem we were addressing was the overall low participation from the Native community in buying produce from our market, even though Dream of Wild Health is a Native-owned and operated farm. Our market lacked visibility, Native people often did not have transportation to get to the market, especially from St. Paul, and in general there was a lack of knowledge about the importance of fresh, organic and locally grown food in a nutritious diet.

On July 2, 2009, we launched our second Farmers Market on Payne Avenue in St. Paul, a location that was convenient for program participants at the nearby American Indian Family Center. We also relocated our original Minneapolis market to Little Earth of United Tribes, the largest Indian housing development in the country. Both locations were selected for their easy accessibility for Native families, eliminating the barrier of transportation in using our markets.

Our Youth Leaders worked with Dream of Wild Health staff—Donna LaChapelle, Program Director, and Ernie Whiteman, Cultural Program Leader—to develop a presentation at two Healthy Feasts in the American Indian community. The kids were nervous, excited, and committed to the project. They worked with Ernie, who is also a well-known artist, to create posters about the importance of good nutrition in maintaining health, and develop artwork for the cookbook we were creating. The group had already worked with David Rodriguez, a graduate student in Nutrition, to learn about nutrition from an indigenous perspective and set personal health goals. They learned about the medicine wheel concept of health, the traditional belief that to live a good life one must maintain balance with the mind, body, spirit and emotions. Each youth either wrote a piece about their own lives or chose a reading from a text related to healthy diets. They practiced, practiced, practiced with Ernie and Donna, struggling to overcome their fear of public speaking.

Our first Healthy Feast took place on June 18 at the American Indian Family Center (AIFC) in St. Paul, just two weeks before launching our Farmers Market 3 blocks away. We had arranged to work with the Mothers’ Circle at AIFC, sharing the costs of $10 vouchers that women could bring to the market in exchange for fresh produce. We sent flyers prior to the Feast inviting staff and clients to a free lunch featuring a Circle of Life presentation by the Youth Leaders.

On the big day, we gathered in a circle around a special star blanket that was made specifically for this presentation. Posters were hung on the wall, with Farmers Market flyers stacked beneath. After a prayer from Ernie, the kids took turns speaking their parts just as they had rehearsed. Some of their voices shook, one or two were hard to hear, but afterwards they were all elated! People came up to shake their hands and thank them for their words. We shared a beautiful meal of wild rice soup, strawberry walnut salad made with fresh greens, corn bread, and wojapi (traditional stewed blueberries). Each person received a complimentary copy of our newly printed recipe book plus a voucher to use at the Farmers Market. Twenty-eight people attended this event, plus six Youth Leaders and four staff.

On July 23, we hosted the second Healthy Feast at Little Earth of United Tribes. Slightly less nervous the second time through, our Youth Leaders made their presentation to the community. We shared a delicious meal made with vegetables from our farm, and again handed out flyers publicizing the Market, free cookbooks, and vouchers to be used to purchase vegetables. Thirty-two people attended, plus six youth leaders and three staff.

To help publicize our Markets, we placed ads in the July and August issues of the Circle newspaper. Each week we publicized the markets with a list of vegetables available on the MN Indian List Serve, faxed flyers to Indian organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and sent flyers home with the kids in our summer programs. We also sent e-mail updates and event announcements on Facebook.

SARE funds were used to pay salary costs for Donna LaChapelle, Ernie Whiteman, and Diane Wilson. We gave each participating Youth Leader (8 total) a stipend of $150 for their hard work. We paid David Rodriguez $200 for working on nutrition issues with the kids. We spent $750 on ads in the circle, $157 on miscellaneous expenses for the meals, and applied $1,150 to the cost of printing the cookbook (total $1,761). We did not need to pay for space rental or bus tokens, and paid stipends to 8 youth rather than 10, for a savings of $670. We received SARE permission to use our remaining funds to reprint our cookbooks, which continue to be in high demand.

We work frequently with personnel from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, including Master Gardeners and Nutrition Education Assistants.

As this was a marketing project that involved youth, we kept our data collection fairly basic. We were interested in tracking our participation numbers at the events, and sales and participation at each weekly Market. We also solicited feedback from our participants.
Overall, we learned a great deal from this project. Both locations—at Little Earth housing development, and on Payne Avenue, 3 blocks from AIFC—proved to be challenging in terms of attracting steady participation at the markets. Prior to this project, we were assuming that lack of participation in the markets was due to three factors: lack of transportation, lack of income, and lack of knowledge about how to cook with fresh vegetables. What we learned was that all three challenges had to be met in order to improve participation.

First of all, because our markets are not part of established Farmers Markets with other vendors, our stand-alone markets suffered from an over-all lack of visibility, much like a farmer who sells from the back of a pick-up truck. We kept a simple count of two questions: daily attendance and asking how each person found out about the market. Here’s the estimated total attendance:
Little Earth – 115 individuals, avg. $5 cash purchase, total $576
10 individuals, $5 vouchers, $50 donation
AIFC - 117 individuals, avg. $5 cash purchase, total $586
30 individuals, $10 vouchers (split), $150 donate, $150 cash
TOTAL: $1,162 cash, $150 AIFC vouchers, $150 donated for vouchers
Youth were in charge of record keeping and sales, so that tracking where and how people found out about the market was not consistent during busy times. In the future it would work better to have a third youth whose responsibility was primarily recordkeeping. Overall, however, there was an overwhelming consensus that customers did not rely on the Circle newspaper to find out about the market. Most heard about it from someone they knew, or read about it on the Indian List Serve. Several individuals indicated that it was helpful to get the faxes each week with the list of vegetables available.

Each month when the groups of women came with staff to purchase vegetables using vouchers, the kids were elated by the increase in business. The women in the programs left with large bags of fresh vegetables, some of which were used to cook lunch back at the organization, working with staff and/or Nutrition Education Assistants from the Extension program at the University of Minnesota. Staff at AIFC reported that this program worked very well with their mothers, most of whom had never been to a Farmers Market before. The cookbooks were a huge hit, with people appreciating the recipes that helped them learn how to cook with their fresh produce. We sold or donated the entire 500 printing by the end of the season.

We also worked occasionally with people from the Elders Lodge that is located in St. Paul. The elders lacked transportation and income, so their participation was dependent on getting a ride and a voucher. When those needs were provided, they were enthusiastic about buying as much produce as possible. The Healthy Feast at Little Earth was held concurrent with the weekly Farmers’ Market, and several people left as soon as they received their vouchers to go buy vegetables at our market.

Having youth run the markets continues to be a powerful motivation for them to learn about vegetables, nutrition, organic farming, and our program. Before opening each market, we talked about the vegetables we were selling, easy ways to prepare them, and their benefits in a healthy diet. The youth took great pleasure in answering questions correctly, demonstrating their new expertise. Afterwards, they often asked to take home vegetables to their families, especially carrots. Kids love carrots!

While the SARE grant was for a single season, we continue to use the results of this project in planning for our Farmers Markets. In 2010 and again in 2011, we will work with the Mothers Circle from the American Indian Family Center. Last year we expanded our collaboration to include their work readiness program participants. We see our youth as a huge resource in attracting support for our markets, and also in providing educational outreach for the Native community. This year our Youth Leaders will make a presentation on healthy nutrition to 18 Native schools and organizations, a big step forward from their initial presentation with this project.

One of the big lessons we learned was that all three barriers—income, transportation, education—have to be addressed in order to attract a higher level of participation from the Native community. Each year, we work to make our markets more effective. In 2011, we are launching a mobile Farmers Market in St. Paul that will bring vegetables to four partner organizations that serve Native families as a way of addressing transportation issues. We’re adding SNAP/EBT access and continuing our voucher program to help with income challenges. Each of our partner organizations is working with us to provide educational programs on nutrition and healthy cooking. Our youth continue to play a key role in all aspects of our program.

We shared our information from this project with our partner organizations as well as with other groups who are interested in or are working with food accessibility issues in various communities. We included an article in our 2009 Fall Harvest newsletter that was distributed to 1,200 people on our mail list. We also presented at the Mvskokee conferences on food issues this fall, with an anecdotal summary included in our presentation.

The work of our Native youth in both the Garden Warriors and Youth Leaders programs has attracted attention from the broader media. Our youth were interviewed in 2010 for three short documentary films on food access issues. They, along with the broader story of Dream of Wild Health, were featured in a brief video produced by the St. Paul Foundation for their series, --Nonprofits to Know-- in a second video produced by the Sundance Family Foundation about Youth Social Entrepreneurship; and in an upcoming documentary titled, In Search of Food, that will be shown on the Ovation Channel sometime in 2011.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.