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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, local and regional food systems, food security

    Proposal summary:

    This project, centered in northwest Wisconsin, will bring together a tribal community college and 5 distinct Ojibwe communities in a meaningful partnership, which will work toward increasing food security, agricultural education, and supporting cultural subsistence practices.

    Partners in this 2013 farmer/rancher grant proposal 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 proposal seeks to create more regional actions to improve food security within these  communities; while creating educationalcopportunities that will be scientific in scope for LCOOCC students, educational workshops for community members, and providing greater access to local, nutritious, traditional foods, as well as support traditional Ojibwe subsistence practices.

    Lac Courte Oreilles
    The LCOOCC main campus includes a 220 acre farm, of which approximately 75 acres is tillable. In the past 20 years the farm has provided community garden space to members and participation has varied between 5 members to over 30 for the 20 II and 2012 growing seasons. Through a USDA-NIF A tribal colleges special emphasis grant in 2011 a Sustainable Agriculture Research Station Manager was hired to create a community supported agriculture program for the community, oversee farm operations, and create more opportunities for food system development. Current programming includes: community supported agriculture, farm stand certification, coordination of LCO farmer's market and mobile farmer's market, and partnership with the West Winds Community Cooperative. Current workshop programming includes: basic gardening workshops, harvesting techniques, seed saving, and food preservation.

    St. Croix
    During the summer of 20 II a community garden was planted with many vegetable and tobacco seedlings at the LCOOCC Outreach Site located in the Youth Center in Hertel, WI. Along with a typical row style garden, a 3-sisters garden was planted. The three plants (corns, beans, squash) use the other to grow in a symbiotic relationship. Student interns cared for the garden through the growing season; harvested produce was given to the local elderly center for their meal program.

    Red Cliff
    The Red Cliff, Mino Bimaadiziiwin Gitigaaning, has been in operation for over 15 years and is a 3-acre community garden and orchard located north of Red Cliff, WI. For the past 4 years LCOOCC student interns have assisted with the planting, maintenance, and harvesting of the garden. Red Cliffs garden project has also created a video on traditional gardening practices, created multiple cookbook resources, including a children's edition.

    Bad River
    Current operations within the Gitigaaning Restoration Project consist of various community garden sites located with the individual housing communities. These gardens, including orchard sites are used as demonstration sites and also as a means to cultivate traditional activities and create strategies for food security and improved community health. Bad River Gitigaaning Project received a SARE grant in 2007.

    Lac du Flambeau
    Lac du Flambeau maintains three small agricultural garden and farm projects. The Golden Eagle Farm, run by the Tribe's Forestry Department, is primarily a commercial project, which produces strawberries and blueberries. It has existed for 14 years and is approximately 17.5 tillable acres. The LDF Forestry Department also has a 36 X 45 foot hoop-house where a variety of vegetables are grown, including: tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, peas and pumpkins and sold (or distributed to the school). The Healthy Lifestyles Action Team Community Advisory Board started a new program in 2012 to provide tribal members with raised beds to grow vegetables. A tribal member was contracted to build raised beds for 6 households and 2 demonstration units were built for the food distribution program.

    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 will work together with agricultural professionals, students, interns, and interested community members at all five locations with educational and experiential opportunities in sustainable gardening/farming practices, such as soil amendment, irrigation, good agricultural management, as assessed as individual or group needs.

    Educational experiences can be enhanced by including sustainable living practices with traditional knowledge and wisdom. Elders will be 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.

    Each of the five sites will maintain 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 will then facilitate what is 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.


    Activity/ Responsible Party/ Proposed Outcome /Timeline
    Observational surveys of current gardeners in each community/Interns/
    Baseline data collected and monitored annually to show increase in number /Summer
    2013, 2014

    Conduct Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool /Interns, Extension Staff/
    Data collected and presented to the community and tribal leadership/ Summer 2013

    Demonstration gardens planted, maintained, research conducted, and produce harvested/ Interns, Outreach Staff/ Gardens are maintained, and harvest is preserved through canning, processing /Summer 2013, 2014

    Community workshop series/ Interns, Extension / At least 5 sustainable ag related workshops are conducted in each community/ Summer, Fall 2013, 2014

    Sustainable Living Fair/ Extension, Outreach Staff/ Fairs conducted in each community/ Fall 2013 or Spring, 2014

    Development of efficient produce exchange network/ Extension, Outreach Staff/ Transportation, drop off and exchange, distribution/ 2013, 2014

    With a long history of tribes being self reliant and not working with other tribes, this grant will bring together five northern Wisconsin Ojibwe tribes. With this study we will build on what the Cornell University has labeled Community Food Systems and Civic Agriculture, "A community food system is one in which "food production, processing, distribution and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place." The project proposal will determine if the five distinct tribal communities cooperating, and sharing resources with added opportunities from the grant, will provide more healthy, culturally linked, sustainable food systems locally.

    First Nations Development Institute's model Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool developed through the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative for Tribal Communities will be the assessment tool conducted in each of the 5 communities. This baseline data will assist in the development of individual tribal food system plans and also be incorporated into a regional NW WI tribal food system plan.

    Cultivating partnerships between each of the tribal communities to share knowledge and resources, with Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College as the facilitator, will be the most beneficial outcome of this project. Information related to this project will be shared at various platforms and media outlets.

    LCOOCC has the capacity to create a short documentary on this project which could then be utilized and benefit tribal communities across the country. The overall project will also be highlighted on the college's website and will provide updates to the community through the internet. Connecting to the outreach communities to hold workshops and discuss the overall project can occur over Interactive TeleVision (ITV) from the main campus to all outreach sites, this equipment is already in place and readily available through scheduling from the main campus. Annually, the Northwest Wisconsin Regional Food Network hosts a Regional Food Summit; which LCOOCC Extension has helped to coordinate for the past few years. This will be a great venue to complete a presentation and provide information to others in the communities especially other regional farmers; which may result in more partnership opportunities for each tribal community. Another conference option is the annual Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Conference, and a presentation could be developed on assisting low income populations in developing food system opportunities.

    Other venues to provide information on the project include: Wisconsin Local Food Network (WLFN), Intertribal Agriculture Council (lAC), and Northwest Wisconsin Regional Food Network (NWRFN). LCOOCC hosts an annual Sustainable Living Fair around Earth Day each year and this same platform will be developed for each of the tribal communities LCOOCC serves which would be specific to the individual community.

    Collecting Data
    Interns will complete baseline assessment of agricultural infrastructure within each community.

    Interns will complete and collect, in conjunction with the tribal garden committees, a Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool developed by First Nations Development Institute. Results can then be published on the website, provided to the individual community members, and presented to the tribal councils.

    Baseline data will be gathered by interns in each community on the overall numbers and locations of community members who are gardening. Spatial data can be recorded with the use of handheld GPS units and data then transferred to a geographic information system (GIS) at the LCOOCC main campus.

    Updating this data set yearly will provide maps displaying an increase in the amount of households growing their own food.

    Interns will also attend community garden meetings and collect informal notes, as well as host focus group listening sessions within each community to gauge community interest in food system development. The interns will facilitate discussion between the individual communities.

    Experimental Garden Plots
    Each of the 5 communities will have an experimental garden plot and a control plot. The same methodology will be followed at each site. This will include: size of the plot, irrigation practices, soil amendments, quantity and variety of seeds, dates of planting, and other related variables. Interns will complete initial soil testing before planting, and then test soil at various stages of the growing cycle. This information will be valuable to the community to know which vegetable varieties grow well in agricultural zones 3 and 4.

    Assessing Community Workshops/ Sustainable Living Events
    o Sign in sheets for number of participants
    o Food system/ traditional food survey administered to workshop participants (survey tool designed for all the communities)
    o Evaluation of the overall workshop (instructor, format, venue, etc.) for measuring lifestyle
    improvements, example: (x% of participants said they would be likely to preserve vegetables out of their garden after attending this canning workshop . .. )
    o Photos of the events will be available on the website and also be used for reports, etc

    Overall Communication
    o Monthly ITV meetings with interns and staff from each of the communities
    o Sites visits completed by LCOOCC Extension and interns to the 5 sites (facilitates networking, programming, and special project assistance)

    All financial records will be kept by the LCOOCC business office. The purchasing procedures will remain consistent with procedures already in place at LCOOCC.

    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.