Keeping Traditions Alive: Creating Food Security in Northwest Wisconsin's Tribal Communities

Final Report for FNC13-919

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $21,551.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Amber Marlow
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College
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Project Information


Partners in the SARE project for the 2013 beginner farmer/rancher grant include the tribal communities served by the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (LCOOCC): Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, St. Croix, Bad River, and Red Cliff; all located in northwest Wisconsin. Although currently at different stages of sustainable agriculture and food system development, this grant created more regional actions to improve food security within these communities, while creating educational opportunities that were scientific in scope for LCOOCC students, educational workshops for community members, and providing greater access to local, nutritious, traditional foods, as well as supporting traditional Ojibwe subsistence practices.

Each of the five sites maintained an experimental garden plot to determine yield rates of various traditional foods. This will help determine which varieties grow best in the different climate zones and soil types. The data collected in year 1 provided information and direction on what to grow in year 2. The plot size, location, and companion planting scheme was developed by an Ag/Natural Resource Intern who was hired to assist the interns working at all outreach communities and was also responsible for the plot at LSARS. The intern started 125 plants per site; seeds or seedlings were provided to each site at the beginning of the season, the plants included: ceremonial perennials including sage, sweetgrass, and produce of tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, onion, potato, and more.  Historically, the Ojibwe traded foods that were abundant in their relative locations to accommodate items of need; this project will seek to re-establish traditional trade among these tribal communities which was and can be instrumental in developing sustainable regional food systems.


Ojibwe reservation communities in northwestern Wisconsin share the common need of food security. Due to poverty, poor agricultural soils, many health and nutritional concerns, distances to each other, nearest areas of commerce, the loss of knowledge and skills in securing sustenance, these entities are in dire need of projects that will build sustainable living capacities in their respective communities. Linked by culture, traditions, and family relationships, opportunities are needed to address cooperative food and nutrition security issues together while sharing resources, skills and traditional Ojibwe environmental knowledge. The LCOOCC Sustainable Agriculture Research Station staff worked together with agricultural professionals, students, interns, and interested community members at all five locations to provide educational and experiential opportunities in sustainable gardening/farming practices, such as soil amendment, irrigation, good agricultural management, as assessed as individual or group needs. Elders are being approached to share good practices and to provide knowledge about sustenance and healthy living. Community members at each site will have opportunities to learn and share through practical experiences such as: workshops, mentoring, and participating in sustainable living events; also learning traditional and modern preparation and preservation techniques which will allow for year round food security.  Classes were held in each community on specific topics such as basic food sovereignty, food preservation, composting, basic gardening, and water bath canning.

Each of the five sites maintained an experimental garden plot to determine yield rates of various traditional foods. This helped determine which varieties grow best in the different climate zones and soil types. The data determined what was grown in year 2 at each community. Historically, the Ojibwe traded foods that were abundant in their relative locations to accommodate items of need; this project will seek to re-establish traditional trade among these tribal communities which was and can be instrumental in developing sustainable regional food systems.

Project Objectives:

Community garden/ research plots conducted in 5 tribal communities.  Produce provided to community programs such as early childhood center, elder center, etc.

A farm-to-table survey was administered and results were utilized to provide direction for workshops in 2014 as well as provide the data to the tribal communities and tribal councils.

Workshops were conducted in all 5 tribal communities.  The workshops included: basic canning, water bath canning, composting, basic gardening, seed saving, and more. The contacts at each site assisted with the coordination of the events.  The canning classes had great attendance with about 10 people participating from each community.  The events were held directly in the communities.

Information sharing regarding the project was provided at:  Tribal Food Sovereignty Summit, Indigenous Farming Conference, Intertribal Ag Council, and local venues such as health fairs and pow-wows.

Supplies were provided to each community to increase capacity and included:  handwashing stations, rain barrels, irrigation supplies, canning equipment and dehydrators, plants and seeds, along with garden tools and carts, etc.


Materials and methods:

LCOOCC student interns were hired to assist the community garden areas at each of the 5 tribal communities.  An intern was also hired to coordinate the entire aspect of the project for communicating with all sites, planning meetings and workshops, and collecting data.

Research results and discussion:

Each of the five sites maintained a 30' x 30' experimental garden plot to determine yield rates of various traditional foods.  This information both anecdotal and quantitative assisted in preparing garden plots for the 2014 growing season. Vegetables grown included the three sisters:  corns, beans, squash and other indigenous plants of sweet grass, sage, and tobacco. A garden plot was designed to provide the best locations for each vegetable and relevancy to companion planting, etc.

All communities were provided with digital scales as well as hanging scales to measure their yields. All sites had binders with educational information, garden plans, data collection sheets, and notes pages. Anecdotally, each year and each site experienced bad weather, small yields, issues with volunteer help, lack of interns, etc.

Initially in year 1 the plot for Lac du Flambeau was approved to go in near their Strawberry/ blueberry field; this area got planted late and produced approximately 40 pounds of produce which was given to the Elder center. In year 2 the site was moved to a more visible location within the community, near the LCOOCC Outreach Center and the grocery store. Although more visible, the Tribe approved only raised bed access as to not disturb the land or go through the process of the tribal historic preservation. The beds were constructed with the assistance of the Lac du Flambeau Fresh Start Program participants, LCOOCC students and staff. Due to the early frost the yields were very minimal. The raised beds will continue to be utilized in 2015. The Lac du Flambeau Tribe has provided LCOOCC with oversight of its aquaculture facility and dome in May of 2015, partly due to the assistance of the Extension department and this project in promoting and assisting with increasing capacity for sustainable food related projects.

Relationships were strengthened between the tribal communities and between LCOOCC and the Tribes.  The project provided education and awareness on the importance of food sovereignty.  It provided seasonal jobs or internships to members directly working within their tribal communities.  Based on geographic location it was difficult to hire a LCOOCC intern for Bad River and Red Cliff communities; therefore a limited term employment contract was issued for 2 members to assist with those specific projects.

Supplies were provided to the sites to increase their capacity to grow food and provide that healthy food to community members.  Over 50 community members attended events in each community, building awareness for food sovereignty to include basic canning, gardening, seed saving, composting, and other sustainable agriculture topics.  The produce that was grown through this research project was provided to community members for free or given to the Elder nutrition sites, Early Childhood Education Center, or others.

Impact of Results/Outcomes

A community garden/ 30' by 30' research plots were conducted in 5 tribal communities, successfully for 2 years of growing seasons.  Produce was provided to community programs such as early childhood center, elder center, etc.  Due to the soil conditions and location of some of the gardens, Bad River used a hugelkultur technique of building soil. This was replicated in year 2 at the Lac du Flambeau site in raised bed garden areas next to the Tribe's grocery store.  The grocery store partnered and provided the space along with water access.  The intern created other partnerships and the Freshstart program was able to help construct the raised beds. 

Supplies were provided to each community to increase capacity and included:  handwashing stations, rain barrels, irrigation supplies, canning equipment and dehydrators, over 125 plants and seeds, along with garden tools and carts, etc.

This is a list of the topics that were covered in individual workshops over the course of the grant period. The Elders participated in the workshops mostly as participants. Two Elders led the canning session in the Red Cliff community. The Elders are always encouraged to participate and share knowledge; this is usually within participating in the workshop and not leading the activity or overall workshop.
• Food Preservation – Canning Salsa
• Chef Demonstration: Three Sisters, Corns, Beans, and Squash; Meal in a Pumpkin
• Basic Aquaponics
• Propagating Blueberries
• “Chopped Challenge” – Indigenous Foods Style
• Seed Swap
• Raised Bed/ Container Gardening
• Seeds, Seedlings, and Soils
• Cooking Healthy on a Budget
• Irrigating your Garden
• Trellis Making
• Raised Garden Beds/ Hugulkultur
• Seed Saving
• Family Farm Education Day
• Canning Pickles and Dilly Beans
• Business Plan Writing for Small Producers
• Basic Canning: Apple Pie Filling
• Composting

Relationships were strengthened with the "food" champions within each Tribal community. These relationships were built through communication, on-site visits, emails, financial support, and interns.  This project facilitated a grant proposal to USDA's Community Food Projects grant to build upon the success of this program.  Although unsuccessful in 2014, there is a commitment from each tribal community to proceed with the sustainable agriculture education and growing of food that was started.

LCOOCC Extension has provided for the 2015 growing season a full-time sustainable agriculture intern at each site, seeds if needed, and workshops for community members. LCOOCC Extension is also offering assistance with the labor to put in fences in St. Croix, till the community garden beds in Maple Plain (a housing community for St. Croix), and assist Lac du Flambeau with the Aquaponics dome, and planting the raised beds.

More workshops will be offered in each community to include canning courses and food preservation workshops.

As part of the USDA Socially Disadvantaged Farmer/Rancher grant in FY2014 LCOOCC Extension will be coordinating a conference in September, 2015. This will provide discussions on future partnership opportunities, distribution of product, and possible funding sources with highlighting of regional and federal USDA programs. It will also piggyback with the regional UW-Extension conference for the northwest region along with the community food systems committee which will allow for some technical assistance from UW-Extension agents.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Outreach: A farm-to-table survey was adminstered in each tribal community.  This was done through paper copies collected at health fairs, local clinic, and the community garden site.  An electronic version was also sent out to multiple email listservs reaching all communities involved.  A total of 139 surveys were received.  Data collected from this survey, along with food security data collected on the UW-Madison food security website was provided to the tribal councils of each community in the spring of 2014.  This information was used to determine the needs for the 2014 growing season; which allowed for different spacing of produce; soil amendments to some of the gardens, and the addition of raised garden beds in Lac du Flambeau.

The Farm-to-Table Survey provided direction in the types of workshops which were offered to the communities. Many community members were interested in food preservation topics and the canning workshops in all communities were well attended (at least 8 participants in each workshop). The canning workshops involved mostly the water-bath method and included salsas, pickling, dilly beans, apple pie filling, and jams. A pressure canner was also provided to each community. A check-out system was developed that if a community member attended a canning workshop to learn the basics, then they in turn could check out the necessary equipment and use at their homes or use on site at the LCO College kitchen.

There is growing interest in sustainability related topics especially regarding renewable energy and food security for all the 5 partnering Ojibwe Tribe’s. The Sustainable Living Fairs were scaled back to the workshops as noted above. Participation was good for the food preservation topics. Family Day at the Farm was held at the LCO College Farm in August of 2013 and 2014. A large scale Sustainable Living Fair was held in April, 2015 at the Sustainable Ag Research Station with participants from St. Croix and Bad River.

Information from this project was provided at area pow-wows, a presentation was given at the 2014 Indigenous Farming Conference in White Earth, MN in March of 2014. Information was also shared at the 2nd Annual Food Sovereignty Summit in Green Bay, April 14-17, 2014.

To view a video of this SARE project follow this link:

Project Outcomes


Potential Contributions

The most important contribution of this project was the strengthening of relationships between the tribal communities on the importance of food sovereignty.  Food champions were identified within each community and continue to meet regularly regarding seed saving, exchanges, basic gardening skills, etc.  LCOOCC Extension has committed to continue support and increase capacity at each one of these garden sites, provide educational classes in the communities, and provide summer interns to assist the gardens at each site.  

The Community gardens research plots were designed, implemented and maintained for the 2013 and 2014 growing seasons; each community has planned to continue those plots in subsequent growing seasons.  The harvest was provided to various tribal entities including: Early Childhood Center, schools, Elder Centers, and area feasts.

Capacity was increased at each site with the addition of basic gardening tools, carts, seeds and plants, hand washing stations, canning equipment and dehydators, and more.

Future Recommendations

Overall the communities lack funding for paid farm managers which would assist with increasing their outputs and providing more fresh produce to their tribal communities. LCOOCC Extension applied for the USDA Community Food Projects Grant in March, 2014 and although unsuccessful, will continue to assist the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac du Flambeau, and St. Croix Tribe's with increasing capacity to provide sustainable agriculture education and efforts for creating value added products for retail sales and to facilitate more trade between the Tribes'.

One challenge and opportunity is the geographic locations of each tribal community in general. The goal of this research was to see what produce grew best in each location. Visiting each location and having funding and time for travel was a challenge. Another challenge was due to the nature of some of the communities having more capacity than the others, it was hard to make sure things remained equal and support was divided between the 5 communities.

The most important aspect of this project was the relationship building between LCOOCC Extension and the 5 tribal communities.  The relationships will now exist and continue with future projects and educational programming.

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.