Traditional Community Agriculture Restoration

2005 Annual Report for LNC04-248

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

Traditional Community Agriculture Restoration


The White Earth Land Recovery Project received $150,000 from the NCR-SARE Program for traditional agriculture education and demonstration work on the White Earth Reservation. Our project is designed to strengthen Indigenous agriculture and economic restoration initiatives, and build community knowledge while restoring ecological landscapes.

This program is an extension of our Traditional Community Agriculture Restoration Program to secure environmental, economic and social justice for the Anishinaabeg people on White Earth. Our project has three priorities:

1. Restoration of traditional agriculture systems
2. Preservation of traditional varieties of corn, beans and squash.
3. Enhancing our organic farming initiatives in flint corn, raspberries and strawberries.

We have also identified three outcomes for this project:

1. Establishment of a Three Sisters garden demonstration site.
2. Educate the community about sustainable agriculture.
3. Establish a seed bank and a regional network of seed savers.

Our work will enhance our existing corn, strawberries and raspberries as it creates job opportunities for the community, allow us to produce stocks of two distinct varieties of traditional corn and provide additional foods for our Mino-Miijim Program. Our success is gauged in achieving these outcomes, increased crop yields, greater diversity of traditional saved seeds and heightened awareness in our community as to the advantages of growing and eating traditional foods. Here is a summary of our work for 2005.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Strengthening Local Agriculture Knowledge through Building a Regional Collaborative Aimed at Traditional Seed Restoration

Before this project was funded from NCR-SARE, we had completed some of the groundwork for creating and strengthening a regional network of organizations dedicated to the preservation of traditional heirloom seeds. In 2003 we began our Gitigannig project with a regional conference on sustainable farming and seed saving (early May).

As a follow-up to this conference, we built five greenhouses ((12'x14') that were framed with salvaged PVC pipe, wood and covered with 6-ply greenhouse grade plastic. We also built 20 growboxes (2'x2'x8') framed with untreated pine or cedar and distributed to people in nine reservation communities. After these (and the greenhouses) were distributed, we hosted two follow-up training sessions in the summer and early fall.

In our outlined work in this area we proposed to:

1. Increase our stock of endangered traditional seed. Be the keeper and supplier of these seeds for our community. Ensure that community outreach and education efforts would increase as our seed inventory increased.

Our work in this area for 2005:

During the winter months as the soil rests, a WELRP intern wrote several letters to various seed saving organizations across the country, requesting donations of traditional seeds for our organization and project. As winter progressed into spring, packets of seeds began to find their way to the WELRP office and seed collection was in full swing. As well, flyers were created and distributed, along with an ad in the local tribal paper, encouraging community members to sign up for seeds for spring planting. This gave us an idea of how much seed was going to be needed for community gardens as well as our own WELRP gardens. Along with this work, we began taking orders for fruit and nut trees/bushes.

Once the seeds had arrived, they were sorted by category and the bushes and trees arrived, a list of people who wanted seeds/trees or both had been identified. Dates, places and times were set for distribution of seeds, and trees, with distribution taking place well before spring planting was underway. Along with providing seeds and fruit/nut trees/bushes, we implemented a garden tilling service, working with the WE RTC to help defray the cost. People who wanted their garden tilled were asked to contribute $5 towards plowing expenses. In 2005, we tilled 200 community member gardens. In 2006, we hope to till 300, and to expand to 400 by 2007. This is an added component of our work to increase traditional gardening and seed saving for White Earth.

Other work for 2005:

The weekend or June 10-12 2005 WELRP once again hosted its traditional food stand at the White Earth Pow-wow, and currently has two volunteers, and one intern working to plant and expand our Three Sisters gardens, as well as hosting various workshops on growing traditional seeds. In May, WELRP once again distributed seeds and donations of fruit and nut trees to community gardeners, with increased participation by 25% from last year.

During the months of July - September, the White Earth Land Recovery Project once again hosted the WE Fresh Produce stand at the WE Clinic. Community members were able to purchase fresh, organically grown vegetables grown by at the WELRP farm. As well, Margaret and interns delivered five different times these fresh vegetables to Mino-Miijim participants throughout the growing season. Along with this, the WELRP Sustainable Communities staff once again built four (4) greenhouses, for distribution to various community gardeners who are interested in getting a head start on their spring planting.

Work for fall included obtaining organic manure (for gardens and greenhouses) from a local organic farmer. Planting of 250 heads of garlic for the 2006 growing season. Working with local tribal schools to implement vegetable patches, focusing on squash production as they learn about seed saving techniques, tilling, and resource management.

As well, Emily Levine (WELRP Intern) undertook the daunting task of writing letters to various seed organizations, seeking donations for traditional seeds for 2006. Currently we have enough white flint corn seed in our local seed bank to distribute to 177 community members as well as for planting time for our own garden at the WELRP farm. Emily is looking to locate additional produce seeds as well as traditional potato, tomato and bean seeds for the upcoming spring planting.

Greenhouses: since building greenhouses for community members, we have found that they become hothouses during the summer months. For 2005, we planned to implement weatherization for the greenhouses for better results. Our greenhouses actually became hot houses with the single-layer plastic shell unable to provide a thermal barrier. The result; when the sun is out, the houses quickly heated up to an excess of 90 degree even with the doors open and when the sun went down, the heat quickly escaped. Because of these thermal swings, greenhouse caretakers had the unfortunate experience of “cooking” their vegetable plants before they were able to produce any vegetables. Since we believed that these small greenhouses would assist gardeners in extending their growing season we realized that temperature control and regulation was necessary. We needed to convert our hothouses to actual greenhouses.

In order to achieve this, we would need to cover each greenhouse with an additional plastic shell and once it is secured, we will connect a blower motor. The blower will be vented into the outer layer of greenhouse plastic, sealed with duct tape and blow cool outside air in between the two plastic shells. This process will create an air gap between the two hulls that in turn will prevent the greenhouse from burning the plants on a hot day. This extra shell will also help the house shed wind, resist weather and preserve the inner shell.

Adding a second plastic shell enhances the thermal performance of the greenhouse, as it will not burn the plants during the day. However, it could freeze the plants in the cold of night. In northern Minnesota, killing frosts come as late as June in the spring and as early as August in the fall. Though the double plastic shell will not keep the house warm all night long, these greenhouses are supposed to provide our gardeners with the best opportunity to successful grow and save seeds. This cannot be accomplished if there is any risk of a late frost that may kill our supply of traditional seeds.

To keep the houses cooler during the summer months, exhaust fans will be installed (Spring 2006) to keep the air circulating through the houses, and allowing for better ventilation.

Heating the Greenhouses: Our solution was to devise a passive solar heating system with propane backup, this idea was inspired by heating units examined by our staff at other sites in Minnesota, as part of training opportunities in solar energy systems. For our greenhouses, we planned to use a 30-gallon propane water heating tank that is in a closed system with passive solar water heaters. Piping from the tank to the heaters will run through the greenhouse in a 12” x 12” grid. The piping will be buried under a mixture of sand, manure and dirt and at night, the heat for the greenhouse will rise from the water heated biomass covering its floor. The passive solar heaters will replenish the reserve of hot water on a sunny day and for some nights should be enough to keep the house warm. If there isn’t enough solar heated water or not enough sun to heat the water, the system will utilize the propane backup. This process will involve community youth in the installation process and the heaters will be monitored during a six-month period. If they work we will install these heating systems in each of the community greenhouses.

This is an area where we were not successful. We thought that using solar passive heaters would be the ticket to maintaining temperature during the night, but we found out that with these heaters, and the intensity of the heat build up that these heaters caused fires. With this knowledge we have decided to research an alternative method for keeping the greenhouses heated.

2. Development of a reservation wide collaborative aimed at enhancing traditional food options and work with our Elderly Nutrition Program, Tribal Lunch programs and diabetes programs to move towards increased traditional foods consumption and knowledge in the community.

In our proposal we stated that we would work with various agencies on and off the reservation to increase traditional foods consumption by various programs/agencies. Here is a summary of our work for 2005L

Educational Materials: A short-term goal for our project was to develop a broad set of educational and informational presentations related to diabetes. This work included the development of brochures, pamphlets and news releases. As well, Winona LaDuke with Sarah Alexander, wrote the "Food is Medicine" book highlighting the benefits of traditional agriculture and the importance of eating traditional foods. This booklet was distributed to all Mino-Miijim program participants, as well as agencies (WE Diabetes Project, Elderly Nutrition Program) and is for sale through our Native Harvest website.

During 2005, the White Earth Land Recovery Project hosted four community workshops. 1) Food Preservation – consisting of teaching and sharing knowledge of proper food preservation techniques. This workshop was attended by young women from the community as well as elders who have begun gardening recently. 2) General Gardening – this workshop consisted of various gardening information/knowledge as to disease prevention, weeds, and invasive care techniques. 3) Properly Pruning Fruit Trees – consisting of the proper techniques and knowledge in pruning fruit trees. 4) Food Safety in the Garden – Presented by a master gardener from the Becker County Extension Office, presenting food safety tips for gardeners as well as ensuring diversity in your garden.

Along with the above workshops, the White Earth Land Recovery Project hosted a traditional corn harvesting day with youth from the Pine Point School. Approximately 50 youth assisted staff in hand harvesting the white flint corn, as well as learning corn braiding techniques (for proper drying) and corn husk dolls, passing on the knowledge of traditional corn harvesting and processing. Students were able to take a nice supply of braided corn with them, to dry and in January 2006, Emily will spend an afternoon at the school showing students how to shuck the dried corn, and how to process the corn into hominy.

Midwest Organic Farming Conference: In February 2004 & 2005 as well as 2006 WELRP sends a delegation of staff to the Midwest Organic Growers and Producers Conference in Lacrosse, WI to network and strengthen their knowledge and skills in organic farming. Attendees from WELRP included: Ron Chilton, Sustainable Communities Director, Pat Wichern, Sustainable Communities Assistant, Kathy Goodwin, WELRP Board Chair, Toni Vizenor, WELRP Board member, Curtis and Darlene Ballard, tribal members and organic farmer, Emily Levine, WELRP Intern, Sarah Alexander, WELRP Wild Rice Coordinator and Winona LaDuke, Executive Director for WELRP.

Indigenous Farming Conference 2005: This annual conference, started by the White Earth Land Recovery Project in 2003 was hosted by Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and had a larger audience then the previous year. This year's theme "Restoring Food Sovereignty Through Integrating Local Food Systems" consisted of a variety of presentations and programs from tribal communities such as WE and Oneida who are striving towards traditional agriculture and foods systems. Staff from WE who attended the conference were: Winona LaDuke, Ron Chilton, Pat Wichern, Mike Chilton, Eric Chilton, Emily Levin (WELRP Intern) and Sarah Alexander.

Our work continues in implementing traditional foods into the school lunch program. We are hoping to hire an individual who will be able to focus their efforts on working with a core set of youth to help move this work forward for 2006 -2007.


As with any project, there are successes and failures. Here is a summary of our work in 2005:

In 2005, we convened the Traditional Agriculture Steering Committee consisting of organic farmers, ranchers and others who are interested n sustainable and organic gardening techniques. This committee consists of: Curtis Ballard, an organic farmer in Ogema, MN; Steven Dahlberg, a Professor at the White Earth Tribal and Community College who specializes in sustainable agriculture and permaculture; Toni Vizenor, traditional gardener in White Earth, MN; Steven Roberts of Strawberry Lake, MN, a local rancher who is working to restore the buffalo population on the reservation; Ronald Chilton, Sustainable Communities Coordinator for the White Earth Land Recovery Project; and Mike Swan of Ponsford, MN, a local organic gardener and White Earth Commissioner of Natural Resources. This core group of local organic farmers, gardeners and ranchers convenes to plan workshops, organize community outreach, and plan for the future of organic agriculture in our locale.

Greenhouses: This is an area where we were not successful. We thought that using solar passive heaters would be the ticket to maintaining temperature during the night, but we found out that the heat build up with these heaters can cause fires. With this knowledge, we have decided to research an alternative method for keeping the greenhouses heated.

Weed and Pest Control: Another area where we experienced some major problems. Beginning with our organic strawberries, right before the picking season, the plants were invaded by slugs. This was due to a heavy rainy season in the spring. Even picking them by hand, and other methods of removal, did not deter these pests from virtually destroying the picking season for our strawberries.

With our Three Sisters gardens, we experienced heavy populations of Canadian thistles and the only way we were able to remove them was by physically weeding them. This needed to be done before they flowered and spread their seeds even further. We came to the conclusion that the horse manure we used was full of thistles. So this fall, Emily Levine, WELRP Intern located organic manure from a local farmer which will be used this upcoming spring, in place of our horse manure.

With increased production of white flint corn and other Indigenous vegetables, our work has become widely known, not just within the community but with other organizations as well. Because of this, we have been able to build some immense relationships with other projects/programs such as Slow Food (in 2003, we were recipients of the prestigious award for our work on biodiversity), Heifer International (new partnership developed in 2005, a temporary partnership with the Green Thumb Program, and a two year partnership with the AmeriCorps Visa Program, along with continued partnerships with various community agencies such as the WE Elderly Nutrition Program, the WE Diabetes Project, the WE Tribal and Community College, and the Seed Savers Network.

With our work being widely recognized, we have increased our volunteer participation in the garden as well. Each spring we host volunteers during the maple sap season, and in 2005, we were able to retain the services of three young ladies from across the country that assisted in the planning, planting, weeding and harvesting from our Three Sisters garden site. You can read more about them at our website Under Current Projects/Internships/Volunteer Opportunities.

Maple Syrup Harvest 2005: After a fairly dry winter, but wet spring, and warmer than usual temperatures, we were hoping for a bumper harvest of maple syrup. Unfortunately, the weather turned very cool during harvest time, and out of our two sugar bushes that were in operation this year, we only received 130 finished gallons of maple syrup. Once again we were blessed with help from various colleges, with approximately 40 young college students here to assist with the harvest. Instead of helping in the sugar bush, they were able to assist staff with other projects, such as building of greenhouses, assisting in local schools and numerous other projects. We are always grateful for our volunteers, regardless of what Mother Nature has in store for the maple syrup harvest.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The implementation of Traditional Agriculture program, has helped our community in various ways. First, by helping bring awareness to the community on the benefits of eating traditional foods versus the canned, salty and processed foods provided by commodity programs or purchased in the store. This program has also brought about a change on the community views foods, agriculture and their relationship to their health. With the implementation of community workshops, the community has a renewed interest in growing their own foods for better health and the sharing of knowledge and food for others as well.

Resources have increased as well, with community volunteers coming from all regions. We have generated an interest from local farmers in terms of growing out increased acreage of white flint corn, production of heritage turkeys and distribution of organic manure, as well as offering tilling services to community gardeners.

The program has grown immensely during the grant period with the assistance of numerous volunteers, interns and community members. This past winter/summer (2005) we had three interns working with the program. Their time is spent in bagging and delivering traditional foods monthly, planting and weeding gardens, hosting community workshops and much more. With the increased agriculture production we have quickly outgrown our facility needs and have renovated a portion of our garage into a small food storage area with a work area for bagging needs.

Our long-term objective was to move further into the restoration of traditional Anishinaabe life-ways; renewing the connection between the land, our life and replacing our diet of poverty with a diet of our traditional foods, grown in the traditional way. This objective included the restoration of knowledge of traditional agriculture systems for both family/extended family gardening systems, as well as larger farms for rejuvenating our traditional economy. This project was designed to work on the restoration of various varieties of Indigenous corn, beans and squash through the development of organic/sustainable agriculture systems and the creation of a broader knowledge base of Indigenous agriculture systems in the community.

We have done remarkably well on this project and wish to thank the NCR-SARE for their support of this work. The White Earth Land Recovery Project is happy to keep you apprised of our work on this project.