Mooningwanekaaning Food Sovereignty and Traditional Agriculture Grant

Progress report for FNC23-1383

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Winonas Hemp
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Martin Curry has ten years of farming experience on island, producing hundreds of chickens, eggs and pigs for the island and neighboring tribal communities of Bad River and Red Cliff. Curry’s farm is on Middle Road and provided the foundation for the first Community Supported Agriculture initiative on Madeline Island in 2022 serving 13 families. Winona LaDuke has thirty years of farming experience, primarily focused on heritage crop varieties including corn, beans, squash, Jerusalem artichokes, and potatoes. LaDuke is also a hemp farmer with seven years of hemp farming experience in Minnesota, under permit from the state of Minnesota and a federal hemp permit. LaDuke is a part time island resident and will be leasing lands to expand farm operations.


PROBLEM- Restoration of Traditional Varieties and Food Sovereignty

Anishinaabe traditional varieties and seed stocks need to be grown to be vital and climate change and food system instability create a larger mandate for tribal foods. As well, there is a need to grow heritage poultry varieties which are endangered, to diversify food systems. This biodiversity is critical for future generations.  The island presents a unique opportunity for heritage varieties due to its geographic location. As well, Anishinaabe people are returning to our homeland after decades of exile, with the Bad River band of Anishinaabe recovering 200 acres and eleven homes in the northern end of the island, and more Indigenous families returning.  This project protects biodiversity, addresses soil fertility with traditional fertilizers, and creates food sovereignty and education for a tribal community.

Project Objectives:

SOLUTION- Anishinaabe Traditional Farming Demonstration Project

In 2023, these two Anishinaabe  farmers will expand dramatically farming of traditional varieties of potatoes, corn, beans, squash on clay, sand and loamy soils of the island. We will create a crop rotation for these varieties, and document production and soil health.  We will investigate the use of poultry ie: turkey tractors in these fields, and other biological pest control and fertilizers and various feeds for these turkeys.  In the upcoming year we intend to increase the land under production for traditional varieties to 4 acres , using fish emulsion and manure fertilizers, as well as horse drawn farming operations.  We will carry out this work with significant support of tribal internships and tribal food sovereignty programs in the region as well as university research support and partnerships with Good Shepard Conservancy- heritage poultry breeders, as well as Heritage Foods.


l) Evaluate 10 potato varieties in fields on several plots on the island, documenting the use of various organic fertilizers, the prevalence of pests, and the opportunities to use horse drawn potato harvesters for this crop and turkey tractors for pests.

2) Grow two varieties of heritage corn on the island in different fields, using fish emulsion and manure fertilizers, horse drawn cultivation, and hand harvesting.  Grow additional varieties of squash, beans, and other crops using organic methods.  Document costs, evaluate varieties and the quality of cultural knowledge and production.

3) Secure and raise 50 organic heritage turkeys in cooperation with the Good Shepard Conservancy and Heritage Foods, which works with Standard Bred Poultry flocks, and endangered heritage poultry varieties.   Provide those to individual sales and to the Heritage Food for national and international sales.

4) Host three farm days, four feasts and rotations of at least eight tribal and heritage food interns to these island farms. Participate in the Community Supported Agriculture program for the island, proving food for 40 families.

5) We will provide education to tribal communities in our region through collaborations with interns, tribal food programs, and continued work with our non profit affiliates Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute and through presentation of our work at various conferences and in articles and media.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Martin Curry - Producer
  • Winona LaDuke - Producer


Materials and methods:

Turkey Tractor Project

In March 2023 we ordered 24 heritage turkey poults through the Good Shepherd Conservancy program. We anticipated to receive poults and training via our GSC fellowship. However, in early June they notified us that due to a hatching failure, they were unable to supply us poults this year. We notified the SARE team shortly after.

We had purchased feed, and feeders in preparation for poults but ceased purchases for the tractor project when we found no poults would arrive. Due to this, we decided we would have to delay the turkey tractors for one year, so we focused instead on bringing in a good potato crop.

Seed Potato Trial (see attachment for weights and varieties)

Starting in late May we began planting potatoes on the Island on three plots; the Middle Road Farm (or MRF, our primary farm site) ,the Madeline Island community garden plot (an in-kind trade tilling for use of the land, pictured mid-season below) and the David Thomas farm on the north end.  

We planted approximately 50 lbs each of purple varieties; Purple Majesty, Adirondack Blue, 50lbs of each pink variety; Adirondack Red, AmaRosa, Red Pontiac, and about 5lbs of a white variety known as Russian Banana, Magic Molly, and German Butterball.  We planted about 300 lbs across three plots. Notably, two of these plots naturally possess a nutrient-poor, clay-dominant soil type, both of which have been tilled by pigs in past years. One plot was sandy soil, on the north end and had been a part of historic potato research on the island. Despite borderline drought conditions in the first three weeks of planting, germination was fair across both plots, at the MRF plot germination was above 90%, whereas at the community garden plot it was closer to 80%.  There was almost a 100% germination at the David Thomas Farm. Due to the drought, the seed received drip irrigation at the middle road farm and over water hand spraying at the community garden, which may account for the inconsistent germination at the community garden plot.  The David Thomas Farm was well set up for irrigation and all the potatoes received good water.

Of those harvested; about one-third was designated too small or too compromised to save for seed. Those potatoes have already begun to be shared amongst community members, native partners on the island, and those that were bruised or otherwise unfit for storage were shared at community events including the Treaty Days Lacrosse game feast on Sept 29.

Research results and discussion:

Middle Road Farm

At the Middle Road Farm plot (MRF) the potatoes grew fairly well, being mounded once in early July and again in late July. During mounding and weeding, the pests at the MRF were fairly low. One outermost row of potatoes (facing the forest) faced intense grasshopper pressure, and some flea beetle damage. The insect pest pressure was relieved by hand-picking grasshoppers and spreading diatomaceous earth on the leaf surface. The outer rows also faced the greatest amount of weed pressure from invasive quack-grass (seen upper hand corner right top), which spreads via rhizomes. This was countered with straw mulching in the most affected areas. Excitingly, and as we had hoped, there was no sign of Colorado potato beetles at the farm plot. This is significant because our partner Anishinaabe farmers in White Earth area, face enormous beetle pressure due to the large-scale industrial potato farming in their area. Harvest was done with help from the Bad River Food Sovereignty youth, and our tribal interns. In total we harvested approximately 872 lbs of potatoes from the MRF plot. Areas of the MRF plot faced wet conditions throughout the season especially in the last three weeks leading up to and during harvest. The downhill area of the MRF potato plot, which covered about 1/3 of the plot, flooded and held water on numerous occasions. Although the potato plants appeared to thrive above ground, they yielded very few viable potatoes during harvest, those that were found were soft and or rotted. Several potatoes, mostly of the Pontiac Red variety, were also noted to have scabs, knobs, or growth cracks, which make sense since the potatoes experienced periods of drought and sudden influxes of water (Citation; SDSU Potato troubleshooting).

These deficiencies in the field and soil will be addressed by amending the soil in the fall and again before planting in the spring. Additionally, scabs appeared on many of the blue potato varieties (which are highly susceptible to the disease) and to the large Pontiac reds. This is a curious insight because the clay on Madeline Island is very red, and known to have very high acidity (or low pH), however, the conditions for scab are “hot dry periods '' and “high pH soils” which the bacteria that creates flourishes. This indicates that further soil testing is needed and if we intend to grow out scab-susceptible varieties we will need varied amendments to adjust the acidity in this plot.

In comparison the Northern plot on David Thomas' farm land had no potato bugs, no scabs, and was in sandier soil with a sprinkler, simple irrigation. The potatoes were planted two weeks later, in mid June, and the yields were substantial on the two rows we planted of two separate varieties.  We were able to harvest over l,400 pounds of potatoes from the farm. There had been significant weeding and the field was clean, so there was no weed pressure, nor any insect pressure.  The potatoes came out without scabs or any other scarring. 

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 Journal articles
5 On-farm demonstrations
4 Published press articles, newsletters
5 Tours
7 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days
2 Other educational activities: Provided food to community feasts and had the opportunity to share our work Three feasts

Participation Summary:

6 Farmers participated
6 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We had a number of successful farm visits and shared information. We reported on this information and have shared it in presentations at farming conferences. We are about to present it at the 2024 Indigenous Farming Conference. Additionally, we presented this story at the Department of Energy Tribal Energy Conference in Pechanga California in February of 2024 to 800 tribal representatives.

Learning Outcomes

5 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

We learned that not all poults are coming and in 2024 we will need to look for different poults.  We may also need to change this portion of the grant and do the poults elsewhere as Martin Curry's entire poultry operation was devastated by predators and he is transitioning from the farm. The 2024 farm owners do not want poultry or animals.  Hence we will need to either eliminate the poultry in 2024, or else put them on a different, farm, possibly off island.  This needs to be reviewed and decided. 

We learned that potatoes grow very well, and in the sandy soil of the north, they have none of the scab that existed at the other farm. 

We learned that horse farming is just beginning to return to the island and although we were able to bring the horses up, we did very little farming with them and are hopeful that in 2024 we can do more. We are working with David Thomas, the land owner, to see what is allowable.

We learned that the farming operations are very important to our tribal members.  



Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
5 New working collaborations
Success stories:

WE had many people really interested in the farming operations. I think it was particularly good to see a skeptical, keeps-to-himself farmer allow us to farm and come up with a beautiful crop of potatoes, so much so that he is really enthusiastic about 2024. Time and commitment change things. 


We will expand our potato varieties in the northern farm and as well our fertilizers. We used primarily manure here, and not fish  guts but fish emulsion will be used in 2024.  

We  may need to move the poult and turkey project off island until the predator population is addressed.   Mr. Curry lost all poultry he had to ermines and coyotes. 

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.