To begin, credit for the title of this project goes to two organizations: Dream of Wild Health in Hugo MN has a teen farming program known as the Garden Warriors. Its an amazing month-long program which Native teens learn to plant, grow, harvest, cook and market fresh, organic vegetables. I had the opportunity to volunteer on this farm in 2012 and was impressed with the youth and their supervisors. “Good Seeds” comes from the English translation of a Mohawk organization based in Akwesasne, Kanenhi:io Ionkwaienthon:hakie, or “We Are Planting Good Seeds.” The title of this organization refers not just to the organic and Haudenosaunee heritage seeds that they are planting in the community garden, but also the knowledge and motivation they hope to instill in fellow community members.
This project has both an academic and an applied angle. While the local food movement prompts followers to seek out locally sourced organic food as a means of supporting local growers, reduce their food miles and promote environmental sustainability, in Native communities the renewed push to ‘eat local’ is often based on reviving a traditional food culture that has been impacted from alienation from the land, improving diets that have contributed to the diabetes epidemic, and promoting greater tribal sovereignty over land tenure and food production. However, with a few exceptions (like the work of indigenous scholars Winona LaDuke, Melissa Nelson, and Devon Mihesuah) Native Americans have yet to be included in the literature around the local food movement or food justice in a significant way. I began this project as an attempt to fill this gap by examining the rise of a Native American local food movement, distinct from the broader movement, and the ways in which concepts of food sovereignty, health promotion, and cultural preservation support this movement. In working with Mohawk farmers in upstate NY and in my experiences as a volunteer in Native American community gardens in the Midwest, I hear three main motivators for starting and supporting a Native food project: food sovereignty, improved health, and cultural preservation. This project seeks to examine the importance of these three motivating factors across a nation-wide sampling of Native gardening projects.
On a practical level, in sitting around kitchen tables or working in the garden with Kanenhi:io members, we often wondered about other Native organizations working on similar projects, and how they were handling some of the challenges we were coming up against. Through conferences like the Great Lakes Indigenous Farming conference (hosted by the White Earth Land Recovery Project) and the Food Sovereignty Summit (hosted by First Nations Development Institute, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Intertribal Agriculture Council), I had the opportunity to meet members of similar organizations, who represented tribes from all around the country. This project seeks to create a resource for these organizations, as well as communities seeking to establish organizations like these. Through site visits and interviews, as well as the creation of a documentary film and this blog, it is my hope to gather and disseminate information about the successes and challenges faced by each organization, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
If you’re interested in having your Native farming and gardening organization included in this project, please drop me a note! This project is funded by a Salomon grant from Brown University, as well as supported by the Ford Foundation.