Growing Tribal Farming Capacity and Outreach

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $142,007.00
Projected End Date: 11/29/2024
Grant Recipients: United South and Eastern Tribes; Cornell University; Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Lea Zeise
United South and Eastern Tribes


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification: Historical records illustrate the sophistication and ubiquity of Tribal agricultural systems in North America, including the Northeast. Accounts of millions of bushels of corn in storage and cornfields that stretch thirty-six square miles fill reports of European colonists who both relied on Northeastern Tribes for sustenance and then played a role in their erasure. The attempt at erasure resulted in not only corn fields burned to ash, but the near complete breakage of intergenerational transfer of agriculture knowledge via land loss and the boarding school era, which didn’t end until the 1980’s. But all was not lost. And in fact, those few carefully guarded seeds and knowledge keepers who persevered carry on the “old way” of agriculture today through small subsistence farms, and their numbers are growing. What was a trickle of beginning farmers just a few years ago has turned into a steady flow of Tribal citizens returning to the land to find profound healing through traditional agriculture. With this new wave of Tribal farmers, there is a new wave of technical assistance needed. Not just assistance with the technical aspects of, for example, a soil test, but assistance with the traditional aspects of agriculture that nourish the spirit and further mend the injuries of the past.  


    Solution and Approach: United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET) is a non-profit, inter-Tribal organization representing 30 Tribal Nations from the Northeastern Woodlands to the Everglades. Seven member Tribal Nations have recently established farms and gardens to serve as pillars of food sovereignty, and in this pursuit, they have seen the need in their Nations to expand their capacity from food production to training centers. In essence, these Tribal operations are poised to serve as small-scale extension offices that provide culturally-relevant farmer training at a time when the need is growing. This project aims to support that goal by working with them to design and deliver a Train-the-Trainer (TTT) curriculum in topic areas identified within their Tribal farming communities alongside adult education and evaluation subject matter. USET and project partners will then support trained Tribal staff in their delivery and evaluation of workshops to their farming communities (an estimated 150 farmers total during the grant time period; with hundreds more in the years to follow). This process will build Tribal farm capacity in a sustained manner. It will also serve a dual purpose by building relationships, trust, and reciprocal learning between Tribal farmers and project partners: USET, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Note: this project was submitted as a pre-proposal by Intertribal Agriculture Council, however, it was agreed that original Principal Investigator, Lea Zeise, would carry it forward in her new role at USET.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    17 Tribal farm staff will participate in train-the-trainer workshops and expand their capacity as agriculture service providers by developing culturally-relevant curricula on five topics (soil health, raised beds, planting plans, composting, and canning) and delivering 36 workshops to 150 subsistence and direct-market farmers in six Tribal Nations. 40 of these farmers will begin or expand a sustainable agriculture project as a result of attending an agricultural service provider-instructed community class.

    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.