Traditional Community Agriculture Restoration
The White Earth Land Recovery Project received $150,000 from the NCSARE 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.
In our outlined work in this area we proposed to:
1. Increase our stock of endangered traditional seed, that we be the keeper and supplier of these seeds for our community. This would ensure that community outreach and education efforts would increase as our seed inventory increased.
Our work in this area for 2006:
During the winter months as the soil rests, WELRP staff works to obtain seed and tree donations from various organizations and companies who specialize in organic and traditional seeds. 2006 brought a new staff member on board to oversee a majority of this work. Carla Rojas joined the White Earth Land Recovery Project as our new Sustainable Communities Coordinator who oversees all the gardening work at WELRP. During her first few months with the organization, Carla wrote several letters to various seed saving organizations across the country, requesting donations of traditional seeds for our organization and project. Because of the work and documentation from an intern who had previously done this work, and compiled a neat and organized database with seed vendor information, Carla was able to focus her efforts into securing seeds from the list. As winter progressed into spring, packets of seeds began to find their way to the WELRP office and seed collection was in full swing. Along with seeds, a tree order was placed, based off the phone calls of community members who called to pre-order their trees. A list was then created of community members who called to place their requests. Out of all the calls, three lists were created. One list for seeds, one for trees and one for garden tilling service when the ground was able to be tilled. As well, flyers were created and distributed for the dates and locations community members were able to pick up their seeds and trees.
Along with the work of locating traditional seeds and trees, the White Earth Land Recovery Project staff once again traveled to LaCrosse, WI to attend the Midwest Organic Farming Conference in late February. This is a good conference for WELRP staff to attend, as each year they are able to network with other groups working to accomplish much of the same work WELRP is. This conference also gives staff the tools and information they bring back to enhance the project not only for us, but for community participants as well.
As well, staff and community members attended the Third Annual Indigenous Farming Conference at the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin during the early part of February. This conference was started by the White Earth Land Recovery Project and continues to grow each year. The Fourth Annual Indigenous Farming Conference (Feb 2007) will once again be hosted by the White Earth Land Recovery Project at Maplelag Resort, Callaway, MN.
Once the donated seeds arrive in the early spring, they were sorted by category along with the trees and distributed at to the community members through locations and times established. . Contractors were once again obtained (with assistance from the RTC) and a tilling schedule was implemented. In total, these contractors plowed/tilled 250 gardens and the demand continues to grow each year. With the gardens tilled and the seeds and trees distributed, the 2006 spring planting season was underway and people were ready to plant.
Community Workshops: Organic Gardening workshops followed the tree and seed distribution, and the planting season, with the first held on May 25th, 2006. The topic: “How to have fewer weeds in your garden using organic materials.” The second workshop featured Master Gardener – Genelle Bentley with a variety of topics covered. The third workshop consisted of an informational meeting for greenhouses for community gardens.
Other work for 2006:
The weekend or June 12-14 2006 WELRP once again hosted its traditional food stand at the White Earth Pow-wow. Over the course of the growing season, Carla planted and maintained a large garden at the WELRP Farm that contained: lettuce, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, corn, squash, tobacco, onions, radishes and much more produce. As it was a fairly dry year in northern Minnesota, Carla had to find creative ways to keep the gardens watered, as the irrigation system was unusable for a portion of the summer. She found that linking together garden hoses and running them from the WELRP office building basement, out the door and all the way to the garden was the most effective way to water a majority of the garden, while she and a youth intern watered the remainder of the garden by hauling 5 gallon buckets of water and individually watering each row. This was very tedious and eventually Mother Nature won with scorching heat and we lost part of the garden to the lack of water. The irrigation system was fixed, but still with it working, there were parts of the garden it could not reach.
Along with the lack of water, weeds, thistles in particular were still invading the garden. As well, this year, we lost most of our potatoes (in another area) to potato bugs. Also, with a dry spring, we once again had no strawberry crop and are in the process of replanting (yet) our organic raspberry patch to its former glory. We anticipate it will be another two to three years before we have a crop of raspberries that we can be proud of.
During the months of July - September, the White Earth Land Recovery Project once again hosted the WE Fresh Produce stand at the old Native Harvest production facility, now the Minwanjige Café, by the Strawberry Lake Store. Community members were able to purchase fresh, organically grown vegetables grown by at the WELRP farm. As well, Margaret and various volunteers once again fresh vegetables to Mino-Miijim participants throughout the growing season. Along with this, the WELRP Sustainable Communities staff once again built four (2) greenhouses, for distribution to various community gardeners, in particular, tribal schools, who are interested in getting a head start on their spring planting.
Work for fall included working with local tribal schools to implement vegetable patches, focusing on squash production as they learn about seed saving techniques, tilling, and resource management. The Naytauwaush Charter School obtained a greenhouse, and will be overseen by Earl and Kathy Hoagland, WE community gardeners, who will work with the school to plant, maintain and oversee the greenhouse. A greenhouse is scheduled to be set up at the Pine Point School for 2007; we need to identify a community member to oversee it during the summer months.
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 2006, we tried to develop a heating and cooling system for the greenhouses, as well as continue our work on keeping them cool during the hot summer day. Currently, we are looking at other ways/methods to implement as none of the other methods have worked.
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 2006
Educational Materials: We obtained a booklet “In Cora’s Garden” (by Nora Murphy and Sally Auger, from the Peta Wakan Tipi and Dream of Wild Health) to distribute to our youth and Mino-Miijim Program participants. This is an excellent booklet (geared more for youth) about diabetes, and traditional and healthy foods.
Our work continues in implementing traditional foods into the school lunch program. For our upcoming work in 2007, we are focusing on a Farm to School program with the Pine Point School, as well as continuing our work in assisting gardeners in saving seeds. This was not done the past couple of years during the project period and will be a focus for Carla during the harvest season of 2007.
As with any project, there are successes and failures. Here is a summary of our work in 2006:
Weed and Pest Control: In 2005, 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 in the fall of 2005, Emily Levine, WELRP Intern located organic manure from a local farmer which will be used this upcoming spring, in place of our horse manure.
2006 Update: with the implementation of organic manure, our thistle population was drastically reduced. Carla still had to battle weeds, due to the hot dry summer, but had assistance from a youth intern, as well as a variety of college volunteers to keep the week population to a minimum.
Maple Syrup Harvest 2006: We worked hard in the sugarbush, as in 2006 we put in 5000 taps. During Easter Sunday, we had our best harvest with one fifth of the sap and syrup coming in on that day. We all hauled sap that day; it was an amazing gathering of community and organization. During the remainder of the harvest, we had approximately 25 volunteers from around the community and region, including college students. Total production for 2006 yielded 500 gallons of sap (unfinished syrup), representing about one-fifth of what we will sell or provide to the Mino-Miijim Program during the 2006-07 season. Because of such a low harvest, we are counting on other regional producers and to date, have purchased over 1000 gallons (finished syrup) from local and regional producers, with expansion plans for 2007.
New Equipment: In May 2006, the White Earth Land Recovery Project purchased a Ford 5550 tractor (farming and gardening work) and a Ford F150 truck (sugarbush and other work). As well, there was a variety of gardening supplies purchased.
Increased availability of traditional foods: We continue to offer our traditional foods, and fresh produce to the elderly and diabetic on our Mino-Miijim food program. Currently we serve 176 individuals and hope to expand to 200 by 2007. As well, we have provided a great deal of food for community feasts and gatherings. Pow-wow gatherings offer a great example of providing traditional foods to the community, and once again, the White Earth Land Recovery Project hosted a traditional food stand at the White Earth Pow-wow in June. As well, we have begun work on our Local Food Challenge (2005-2006) and will expand this work in 2007. Various community members sponsored the Local Food Challenge, at Maplelag Resort, as well as a presentation at the Indigenous Farming Conference in February.
Donations of food for feasts and gifts: From January to July, the White Earth Land Recovery Project has donated $1,763.64 in food and gifts to the community.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Through all of this work, we see not only our community growing, but also our work as part of a much larger movement of peoples who want to have good food, clean energy, and dignity in our own communities. We are always inspired by our work, and the beauty of our land, and we are also, tremendously inspired by our children and youth, who will carry all of this on.
The program continues to expand with the hard work of Carla and community members interested in growing traditional varieties of our heirloom seeds. This past spring/summer (2006) we had a full-time staff member (Carla) and one youth intern working with the program continuously.
As well, this project has had a large impact, not just for the community, but for other as well. Many of our visitors to the farm have never seen a garden, let alone one as unique as a Three Sisters garden. They are impressed with the size of the gardens, considering the amount of people working these gardens, as well as the amount of food produced over the summer. We have experienced an increased interest in community members looking to obtain seeds, greenhouses and information as to how to grow these traditional foods, as well as increased participation at community workshops, seed distribution sites and signing up for seeds and trees each spring. As well, a couple of the local tribal schools are interested in obtaining greenhouses to use as a teaching model for students, and in the long-term, for community use.
As with any project, or new idea that comes along, people are skeptic. As time goes on, and we continue our work in this area, more and more people are realizing that this project actually does work, and with time, commitment and hard work, they too can grow their own traditional foods, not only for themselves, but for their families and over time, the community.
Miigwech! (Thank you)