Dream of Wild Health, Hugo MN


Heritage sunflowers at the DOWH farm. Photo by Angelo Baca

Heritage sunflowers at the DOWH farm. Photo by Angelo Baca

Dream of Wild Health is a 10 acre non-profit farm in Hugo MN, about 45 minutes north of the Twin Cities that works to connect urban Indian people with not only healthy fresh produce, but the knowledge of how to grow and prepare this food. From a small garden in the city to a full scale vegetable farm, over the past decade and a half Dream of Wild Health has directly touched the lives of thousands of people through summer gardening programs for youth, year-round internships, cooking classes, and the tons of fresh produce brought to the city through farmers markets and their indigenous CSA boxes.

Pollinator garden at DOWH. Photo by Angelo Baca

Pollinator garden at DOWH. Photo by Angelo Baca

In 1986, Sally Auger and John Eichorn started Peta Wakan Tipi (“Sacred Fire Lodge” in Lakota), a transitional housing program for Native men in St Paul, and then the Mother Earth Lodge for Native women, also in St Paul. Their clients expressed an interest in traditional foods and a way of connecting with the earth, and so in 1998 Sally and John created the Dream of Wild Health program. They leased a half acre in Farmington, and Sally started growing out her grandmother’s seeds, as well as other seeds that people began donating. In 2000 Pottawatomi elder Cora Baker donated her collection of heritage seeds to the program, which helped to increase interest in the program as well as the need to preserve traditional foods. After a lengthy search to find the right property to grow the program, DOWH purchased a 10 acre farm in Hugo MN, complete with a house, pole barn and two car garage, that collectively serves as the Learning Center. The program was fortunate to pay off the loan on the farm just before the mortgage crisis of 2008. Diane Wilson (Dakota) came on as a full time employee in 2008, and became executive director in 2011 (although she told us “I keep changing that title. Some days I call myself a desk farmer because I grow a lot of paper. And some days I call myself a seed keeper and that’s the title that resonates with me about the work that I do here. So I’m all those things.”)

Diane Wilson, executive director, and Frank Haney, farm manager. Diane is holding two of the heritage tomato varieties Frank is grown on the farm-- on the left Great White Tomato (the only tomato indigenous to North America), and on the right a German Red Stripe tomato. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Diane Wilson (Dakota), executive director, and Frank Haney (Ojibway), farm manager. Diane is holding two of the heritage tomato varieties Frank is grown on the farm– on the left Great White Tomato (the only tomato indigenous to North America), and on the right a German Red Stripe tomato. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

I had the pleasure of volunteering a few times out at the DOWH farm in 2011, and hearing the Garden Warriors youth present at the Indigenous Farming Conference at White Earth. On August 14 we stopped by the farm to visit with the youth and staff, and tour the new and expanded crops.

Garden Warriors and DOWH staff weeding the beets. In the flowered shirt is Hope (Seneca) who has been working at DOWH for several years, Cedric (Oneida & Dakota), me in the purple shirt, Estelle (Dakota), a new DOWH staff member in the turquoise shirt, Jonathan (Dakota) standing, Aidan (who is working on a bachelors degree in horticulture at Univ of MN) and Dwayne (Oneida and Dakota) at the far left. Photo by Angelo Baca

Garden Warriors and DOWH staff weeding the beets. In the flowered shirt is Hope (Seneca) who has been working at DOWH for several years, Cedric (Oneida & Dakota)is in the blue shirt, me in the purple shirt, Estelle (Dakota), a new DOWH staff member in the turquoise shirt, Jonathan (Dakota) standing, Aidan (who is working on a bachelors degree in horticulture at Univ of MN) is crouched to his right, and Dwayne (Oneida and Dakota) at the far left. Photo by Angelo Baca

Every summer, DOWH offers programs for American Indian Youth from the Twin Cities. Cora’s Kids (named for Cora Baker who donated her seed collection to the program) is a one week program for kids 8-12 that teaches about organic farming, culture, and healthy eating. In addition to learning how to plant, grow, and harvest vegetables, the kids also take part in crafts, like learning how to make a tobacco pouch. There are two sessions each summer for this age group.

Elijah (Winnebago) at the DOWH farmers market stand. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Elijah (Winnebago) at the DOWH farmers market stand. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Garden Warriors is a four week summer program (with two sessions each summer) where Native teens (ages 13-18) learn to plant, grow, harvest, cook and sell vegetables, working closely with University of Minnesota interns and extension agents, a registered dietician, and the cultural director. A different team of youth each day learns the basics of cooking (measuring, chopping, reading a recipe), and prepares lunch for the whole group, using ingredients from the farm (check out the photo below of the amazing lunch we were served). These youth also learn archery and traditional crafts like making pouches, beading or birch bark baskets. Twice a week the youth have the opportunity to work at the farmers market in the Twin Cities, learning customer service, how to recommend different recipes for vegetables, and how to handle money. Each young person accepted into the program is given a stipend, and those who go to market earn extra money. The youth are also taught how to handle their money, including how to open a checking account. Garden Warriors who excel in the program and do well in school are invited to join the year round Youth Leaders group. Youth leaders meet to learn public advocacy and discuss issues of food justice and food sovereignty, diabetes prevention, and connecting the community with better food. Each year they choose a project—one year it was a skit about healthy lifestyles. Another year it was providing a healthy meal at some of the winter powwows. This year DOWH also added on two internships for Garden Warriors who had outgrown the program, but wanted to come back. One of these interns is Dwayne, who had been in the program for seven years, and who is headed to Augsburg College in the fall, where he told us he plans on majoring in Biology, English, and American Indian Studies, as well as participating in the wrestling program. He told us he likes the peace and quiet of working on the farm, and the family-like atmosphere, although he admitted that it took a couple of years of being a Garden Warrior before he would eat many vegetables.

Chauncy, Dwayne and Jonathan weeding beets. Photo by Angelo Baca

Chauncy, Dwayne and Jonathan weeding beets. Photo by Angelo Baca

There are strict rules at the farm: no pop, no hot Cheetos, no junk food at all. And when they climb out of the van in the morning, the youth have to leave behind all of their electronic gear—including cell phones. As Diane described, “We want them hearing the birds, we want them observing what is around them and you can’t do that if you are disconnected from your surroundings. Out here we have really gifted teachers, but the most profound teacher of all is the land and the plants.” In addition, the kids talked to each other, and to the staff who have developed great rapport with them over the years as they work along side them, because they’re not all plugged in to their individual music. Kids come to enjoy the peace and quiet of the farm—Ernie Whiteman, the Cultural Director of the program, described several occasions in which he had a hard time getting youth back into the van to go home—they wanted to stay in the peace and quiet rather than going back to the city. About 60 youth total come through these programs each summer. The van holds 15 people, which provides a practical limitation for the size of each group.

DOWH van (provided by Wells Fargo bank). Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

DOWH van (provided by Wells Fargo bank). Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

DOWH recognizes that it is hard to change the life of youth if they are returning home to the same food habits. To address the whole family, they began the Mino-wiisinidaa (We All Eat Well) program, a 6 week (1 class per week) curriculum that teaches families the basics of safe and healthy food preparation. Follow-up sessions are held throughout the year to include season-appropriate activities (such as gathering wild foods and preparing hominy).

Garden warriors gathering for lunch. Photo by Angelo Baca

Garden warriors gathering for lunch. Photo by Angelo Baca

Lunch created by some of the Garden Warriors; have massaged kale salad with pepitos, mangoes, lime, lemon, olive oil vinaigrette; wild rice pilaf, with onions, scallions and thyme; chicken tagine with coriander, cinnamon, cumin, dried apricots, almonds, garbanzo beans and carrots, parsley, chicken broth. And fruit salad. The kale, onions, scallions, thyme, carrots and parsley came from the farm. When’s the last time a teenager presented you with a home cooked meal like this! Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Lunch created by some of the Garden Warriors; have massaged kale salad with pepitos, mangoes, lime, lemon, olive oil vinaigrette; wild rice pilaf, with onions, scallions and thyme; chicken tagine with coriander, cinnamon, cumin, dried apricots, almonds, garbanzo beans and carrots, parsley, chicken broth. And fruit salad. The kale, onions, scallions, thyme, carrots and parsley came from the farm. When’s the last time a teenager presented you with a home cooked meal like this! Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

In addition to selling produce at the farmers market, DOWH offers a Native CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), selling shares at the beginning of the growing season, and then dropping off boxes of produce weekly. These boxes include organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, fresh eggs, honey, dried beans, wild rice and other indigenous gathered or produced foods (like maple syrup). DOWH buys fruit jams and syrups from the Red Lake Reservation and maple syrup and wild rice from Fon du Lac and White Earth reservations, as a way of supporting Native producers, and making these foods available to people in the cities. Shares are $500 each (about $20 per week), but they also offer half shares for smaller families, and accept cash, credit cards, EBT, or even a good trade—in an effort to make the boxes accessible to families who need them most. They started with 9 shares in 2013, and increased to 20 shares in 2014.

Clara, Jonathan, and Aidan at the DOWH farmers market table set up at Open Streets on Franklin Ave. Photo by Angelo Bacaa

Clara, Jonathan, and Aidan at the DOWH farmers market table set up at Open Streets on Franklin Ave. Photo by Angelo Bacaa

Dakota Yellow Flour Corn, a rare heritage variety of corn. The bags over the corn cobs are to ensure that foreign corn pollen does not drift into the field and cross-pollinate this corn. Ernie pointed to this field; “if you notice it's been hooded. Corn condoms. We had instruction yesterday from a group of young people from the AIDS task force and they talked about safe sex. And in the morning we gave them a lesson on this so they had a safe sex for vegetables, safe sex for humans in the afternoon”. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Dakota Yellow Flour Corn, a rare heritage variety of corn. The bags over the corn cobs are to ensure that foreign corn pollen does not drift into the field and cross-pollinate this corn. Ernie pointed to this field; “if you notice it’s been hooded. Corn condoms. We had instruction yesterday from a group of young people from the AIDS task force and they talked about safe sex. And in the morning we gave them a lesson on this so they had a safe sex for vegetables, safe sex for humans in the afternoon”. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

In addition to market crops, one of the focuses of the DOWH farm is the propagation and preservation of indigenous heritage seeds varieties. In 2000 Pottawatomi eder Cora Baker gifted her extensive collection of indigenous seeds to the DOWH program. When word of this project spread, they began receiving seeds in the mail from other indigenous seed keepers. Currently DOWH has over 300 different varieties of saved seeds in their collection, and are working with a collective of other seed keepers in the area, the Indigenous Seed Alliance, to keep these seeds healthy. The Alliance currently consists of participants from DOWH, the White Earth Land Recovery Project, Shakopee, United Tribes Technical College, and the Science Museum of Minnesota. As Frank, the farm manager at DOWH explained to us, at the beginning of each growing season representatives gather to share seed, and decide which crops to focus on. They grow the seed out, hand pollinating them to ensure purity, and then in the fall combine the seed together, and then split them up among the group members. In this way they are able to keep their seed genetically viable and avoid inbreeding.

Ernie Whiteman, DOWH Cultural Director, eyeing the ground cherries. Photo by Angelo Baca

Ernie Whiteman (Arapaho), DOWH Cultural Director, eyeing the ground cherries. Photo by Angelo Baca

Ernie Whiteman (Arapaho), the Cultural Director, described the importance of the youth working with these heritage seeds: “I told them we have our ancient seeds that have been handed down to us, and those are like our ancestors. That’s what we have that, our ancestors touched something that we have in common, those seeds, so they’re like our ancestors and they have spirits. You will see and you will feel that energy here and those spirits, the ancient ones are here.”

Garden Warriors eating a healthy lunch. Photo by Angelo Baca

Garden Warriors eating a healthy lunch. In the turquoise shirt is Frank Haney (Ojibway), the DOWH farm manager.Frank Spent 26 years cooking, then got a degree in computer programming, and then spent a number of years working at Tsyunhehkwa (we’ll be posting shortly about this farm in Wisconsin). Has been doing farm work for 8 years now. This was his first season at DOWH. As farm manager, Frank has to plan out the crops and succession plantings to have enough for the market and CSAs, and decide which seeds in the collection need growing out each year. Photo by Angelo Baca

Diane lights up when she describes some of the changes the kids go through in DOWH programs. From the boy who discovered he liked to work hard, to the kids who discover they actually like eating vegetables and some who find they have a gift for cooking. She described youth in recovery, some from foster programs, and some working to avoid prison sentences, working along youth from more stable homes and nurtured by a caring staff. She highlighted that the program aims to work on “the whole teenage being,” by addressing cultural identity in addition to food. Ernie also expressed to the youth “you should make a connection to the earth, it’s in your DNA as native people.” He described his efforts to teach the youth that “food is medicine. It’s not just food but it’s also a medicine and so we have to look at it that way. Because it has the ability to help us and to heal us in many different ways. And it’s glad that we are recovering it, we’ve created that bond again it’s like old family members being separated for generations and then finding your ancestors again that’s what we’re trying to do is to recover that element that has been void from our culture for so long.” For the urban Native youth who get the chance to participate in this program, and those who have the honor of working and volunteering at the farm with them, this program has provided a wealth of practical experience and cultural knowledge.

Tidy rows of vegetables, grown in succession to provide produce throughout the summer. As Diane described,  “The soil out here is really depleted so we’ve spent a lot of time and energy and funds to reestablish that good relationship with the soil so that we are making sure that we are taking care of that soil as a relative and in turn that soil is taking care of us by providing all the food.” Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Tidy rows of vegetables, grown in succession to provide produce throughout the summer. As Diane described, “The soil out here is really depleted so we’ve spent a lot of time and energy and funds to reestablish that good relationship with the soil so that we are making sure that we are taking care of that soil as a relative and in turn that soil is taking care of us by providing all the food.” Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

DOWH bee hives, built in 2010 by Meagan O’Brien. Photo by Angelo Baca

DOWH bee hives, built in 2010 by Meagan O’Brien. Photo by Angelo Baca

Honey bee on a heritage variety sunflower. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Honey bee on a heritage variety sunflower. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Pollinator garden to feed the bees. In the background is the frame of a sweat lodge for the Women's Circle that meets each month between April and November host full moon ceremonies and discussions about traditional foods. Photo by Angelo Baca

Pollinator garden to feed the bees. In the background is the frame of a sweat lodge for the Women’s Circle that meets each month between April and November host full moon ceremonies and discussions about traditional foods. Photo by Angelo Baca

Farm manager Frank Haney (Ojibway) holding Hopi black turtle beans. This is a variety that is grown in enough quantity to eat and include in the CSA boxes. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Farm manager Frank Haney (Ojibway) holding Hopi black turtle beans. This is a variety that is grown in enough quantity to eat and include in the CSA boxes. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

This bean you CANNOT eat. This is a rare Lakota bean that came from the Minnesota Museum of Science collection. They had 10 seeds that were 80 years old, 10 that were 60 yrs old, and 10 that were 40 yrs old. Only two of them from the 40 year old lot germinated, to form these plants, which will hopefully produce viable seed to replenish the collection. There will be more about the Museum’s collection, and Scott Shoemaker’s (Miami) efforts to grow out the collections, in a future post. Photo by Angelo Baca

This bean you CANNOT eat. This is a rare Lakota bean that came from the Science Museum of Minnesota collection. They had 10 seeds that were 80 years old, 10 that were 60 yrs old, and 10 that were 40 yrs old. Only two of them from the 40 year old lot germinated, to form these plants, which will hopefully produce viable seed to replenish the collection. There will be more about the Museum’s collection, and Scott Shoemaker’s (Miami) efforts to grow out the collections, in a future post. Photo by Angelo Baca

Tobacco plants, tended to by Ernie Whiteman (Arapaho) and the boys in Garden Warriors program. In many plains and Midwest Native cultures it is the men who tend to ceremonial tobacco, so Ernie brings the boys to this patch to cultivate and harvest it.  Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Tobacco plants, tended to by Ernie Whiteman (Arapaho) and the boys in Garden Warriors program. In many plains and Midwest Native cultures it is the men who tend to ceremonial tobacco, so Ernie brings the boys to this patch to cultivate and harvest it. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Ernie Whiteman (Araphao), cultural director and Diane Wilson (Dakota) executive director. Photo by Angelo Baca

Ernie Whiteman (Araphao), cultural director and Diane Wilson (Dakota) executive director. Photo by Angelo Baca

The beginnings of an indigenous fruit orchard. DOWH recently planted Planted 200 trees, including wild plums, highbush cranberries, blueberries, mulberries, elderberries, and buffalo berries. Photo by Angelo Baca

The beginnings of an indigenous fruit orchard. DOWH recently planted Planted 200 trees, including wild plums, highbush cranberries, blueberries, mulberries, elderberries, and buffalo berries. Photo by Angelo Baca

Wild plums in front of the DOWH farm house. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Wild plums in front of the DOWH farm house. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Greenhouse, where many  of the plants are started. Next year DOWH will also be adding a high tunnel, courtesy of NRCS, in order to help extend their growing season. Photo by Angelo Baca

Greenhouse, where many of the plants are started. Next year DOWH will also be adding a high tunnel, courtesy of NRCS, in order to help extend their growing season. Photo by Angelo Baca

Walk in cooler where DOWH stores their produce. Photo by Angelo Baca

Walk in cooler where DOWH stores their produce. Photo by Angelo Baca

Kitchen where the Garden Warriors prepare lunch. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Kitchen where the Garden Warriors prepare lunch. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Clara Sanberg, DOWH market coordinator. Photo by Angelo Baca

Clara Sanberg, DOWH market coordinator. Photo by Angelo Baca

A few of the heritage tomato varieties grown at the DOWH farm. Photo by Angelo Baca

A few of the heritage tomato varieties grown at the DOWH farm. Photo by Angelo Baca

DOWH farmers market stand. Photo by Angelo Baca

DOWH farmers market stand. Photo by Angelo Baca

Elizabeth, Elijah, and Clara at the DOWH farmers market booth. Photo by Angelo Baca

Elizabeth, Elijah, and Clara at the DOWH farmers market booth. Photo by Angelo Baca

DOWH cookbook. For information on how to get one, go to http://dreamofwildhealth.org/cookbook.html. Photo by Angelo Baca

DOWH cookbook. For information on how to get one, go to http://dreamofwildhealth.org/cookbook.html. Photo by Angelo Baca

Categories: Minnesota/Wisconsin, Seed Savers, Youth ProgramsTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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