Traditional Community Agriculture Restoration

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $150,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Winona LaDuke
White Earth Land Recovery Project

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, potatoes
  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)
  • Nuts: hazelnuts
  • Vegetables: beans, broccoli, cabbages, onions, peas (culinary), rutabagas
  • Additional Plants: tobacco, herbs, native plants
  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: preventive practices
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, marketing management, value added
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, public participation, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Traditional Community Agriculture Restoration

    The White Earth Land Recovery Project requests $50,000 annually for three years for traditional agriculture education and demonstration work on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.  Our project will strengthen Indigenous agriculture and economic restoration initiatives, and build community knowledge while restoring ecological landscapes.  Our Traditional Community Agriculture Restoration Program is an extensio of our ongoing work to secure environmental, economic and social justice for our people.  In keeping with this mission, our proposed project has three priorities: Restoration of traditional agriculture systems, Preservation of traditional varieties of corn, beans and squash, and Enhancing our organic farming initiatives in fling corn, raspberries and strawberries.  We identify three general outcomes for each priority area.  By restoring traditional systems of agriculture, we will Establish a "Three Sisters" garden demonstration site, Educate our community about sustainable agriculture and Disbribute harvested corn, beans and squash to elders on our Mino-Miijim Program.  By preserving traditional varieties of our foods, we will Establish an annual workshop series to teach seed saving, Provide interested seed stewards with the necessary resources to save seeds (greenhouses, growboxes) and Establish a seed bank, and a regional network of seed savers.  Finally, our efforts to enhance our existing organic corn, strawberry and raspberry farms will Create work in the community while teaching the tenets of organic agriculture, Allow us to produce stock of two distinct varieties of traditional corn and Provide additional food for our Mino-Miijim Program.  We will gauge our success in achieving these outcomes by: increased crop yield, greater diversity of traditional saved seeds, and heightened awareness in our community of the advantages of a traditional diet.  With SARE's assistance, we will achieve these goals with our three year plan.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Long Term: Our organizations mission is to recovery the land base of the White Earth Reservation, embodies systemic, long-term changes in the relationship of native cultures to mainstream America.  Our ongoing work in sustainable farming and the work outlined in our proposal, moves toward the restoration of traditional Anishinaabe life-ways: renewing the connection between our land, our life and replacing the diet of poverty, which is all that is available to many of our people, with a diet of our traditional foods grown in the tradtional way, preserving traditional varieties of our food from extinction, and restoring the seed stocks of these heirloom corn, beans and squash to pre-reservation levels.  Our long-term goals for our sustainable agriculture program includes restoring the knowledge of traditional agriculture systems on White Earth communities for both family and extended family garden systems, as well as larger farms for rejuvenating our traditional economy.  Our project will work specifically on restoration of Indigenous corn, beans and squash varieties, development of organic/sustainable agriculture systems and the creation of a broader knowledge base of Indigenous agriculture systems in our tribal community and in the broader Native community in the region.

    Intermediate Goal:  Strengthen local agricultural knowledge through building a regional collaborative aimed at traditional and unique seed restoration.  We have completed some of the groundwork for creating and strengthenin a regional network of organizations dedicated to the preservation of traditional heirloom seeds.  During the 2003 season, we began our Gitigaanig project with a regional conference on sustainable farming and seed saving in early May.  As a follow-up to this outreach, in early June we built five greenhouses and twenty growboxes and distributed them to people in nine reservation communities.  This infrastructure will give community gardeners a head start in the spring and those who received greenhouses, will have their growing season extended through mid fall.  After the greenhouses were distributed, we hosted two follow-up training sessions in the summer and early fall.  During the 2004 season, the individuals who completed these trainings will be hubs in a developing seed saving network.  In order to build on what we have accomplished already, we must increase our outreach and education efforts.  

    In the Intermediate term, our goals are: 1) Increase our stock of endangered traditional seed, that we may be a keeper and supplier of these seeds for our community.  This implies community outreach and education efforts that will increae as our seed inventory increases.  2) To invite regional seed saving and community gardening organizations to our reservation to educate our communities.  Only through renewing our commitment to working with other organizations several times throughout the year, will we be able to establish a true network of seed savers.  We will evaluate the effectiveness of the planned workshop series by how many community seed savers come to the workshops regularly and by the rate of which our seed stocks, both in quanity and variety, increase.
    3) To distribute greenhouses and growboxes to individuals in the community who want to learn about preserving seeds.  As well, instruct our community in the versatility of such greenhouses by showing techniques for climate control, maintenence and for how to use a greenhouse as a drying house.

    Development of a reservation wide collaborative initiative aimed at enhancing tradtional food options and work with our Elderly Nutrition Program, tribal lunch programs and diabetes program to move towards an increase in traditional foods consumption and knowledge in the community.  Our work to restore our traditional nutrition is continuous and in the Intermediate term, our expected outcomes include:
    1) To collaborate with the GF USDA Human Nutrition Research Center and the WE Diabetes Project to pursue a study comparing the effects of a traditional diet and a modern diet, as well as nutritional analysis of traditional Anishinaabe foods.  2) To collaborate with various reservation groups to increase awareness about diabetes in the community.  After three years, we hope to make a measureable, if slight impact on reducing diabetes.  3) To expand our food distribution to elders lunch programs, as well as provide food for traditional feasts.  4) To educate our community youth about the importance of eating our traditional foods.  This will be done by demonstration as we bring youth into our gardens and share with them our traditional foods and also through literature we develop for community education.  5) Establish community orchards and edible forests in each of our reservation communities for food processing and winter storage or nutritious natural fruits.  6) To capitalize on the potential of our new processing facility to increase local food production at the commercial level.  

    Short-Term: Our short-term goal for our proposed project is to improve our sustainable farming operation, while educating our community about our traditional ways and feeding our people our food.  Working in the region with established seed banks, we will grow an inventory of endangered traditional foods.  Collaborating with organic farmers in our region we will increase stocks of these seeds, especially flint corn at commercial levels that will provide our facility with enough raw product to forego outsourcing, while providing work in our community on organic farms.  Finally, in the short-term we will establish "Three Sisters" garden demonstration sites with nutritious Indigenous foods for our elders and with work that will educate our community on our traditions.  More specifically these short-term outcomes will include: 1) Increase our organizations capacity to educate our community. 2) Educate our community abut the advantages of sustainable, traditional agriculture, 3) Educate our community about closed systems agriculture. 4) Increase awareness in our communities about the differences between traditional, heirloom seeds and conventional hybrids. 5) Educate our community, especially our elders involved in the Mino-Miijim Program, and youth involved with tribal lunch programs, the benefits of a traditional diet. 6) Restore varieties of traditional corn, beans and squash and produce them in commercial quantities. 7) Create employement in our community, and 8) Develop our organizations land holdings into viable farming operations - corn, raspberry and strawberry and three sisters where appropriate.

    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.