Who We Are
What We Hold True:
Throughout time, Indigenous people have thrived in living off the land. They have used farming practices that respect, sustain, and regenerate the earth so that it continues to provide nourishment and prosperity for the betterment of the community.
Indigenous farmers are resilient, persistent, and ingenious in respecting the land while providing food, medicines, and fiber for their people. Agriculture provides jobs and economic development in communities while providing precious opportunities for intergenerational learning and wisdom building. At the heart of Indigenous farming lies the intersection between land stewardship and reclamation, food production and preparation, and the integration of language and culture usage. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) writes “English is a noun-based language, somehow so appropriate to a culture so obsessed with things. Only 30% of English words are verbs, but in Potawatomi that proportion is 70%.” Put into context, non-Indigenous farming practices focus on outcomes: increasing yields, increasing profits, and efficiency. Indigenous farmer Chris Newman shares that Indigenous farming is not about the “what” or “how” (outcomes) but the “why”. Farming is not just about the act of placing seeds into the ground and stewarding them through the harshness of the growing season. It is about the integration of farming wisdom combined with spirituality, healing, and the active usage of language and culture in all stages of land-based living. Tribal nations, Indigenous farmers, and families are relentlessly working to protect and preserve land sovereignty, cultural sovereignty, and food sovereignty.
Need for Change:
- Lasting Impacts of Colonialism
- Disparities in Health and Food Access
- Reliance on Non-Indigenous Food Sources
Lasting Impacts of Colonialism:
The current food system in the United States has been designed to disrupt the traditional connections Native American communities hold with the land, farming practices, and language and culture. Potawatomi writer Kyle Powys Whyte describes the goal of U.S. settlers as “erasing the capacities that Indigenous societies rely on for the sake of exercising their own collective self-determination.” The often-embraced “Manifest Destiny” and continuous wars throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries against Native people destroyed food supplies and Indigenous lands in order to force Native people to assimilate and rely on the U.S. Government.
According to Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk and Mi’kmaq descendency), a leader in Indigenous food sovereignty, as the reservation era unfolded throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, U.S. policies encouraged Indigenous people, including nations that were not traditionally farmers, to farm marginal, unproductive lands. Furthermore, the implementation of boarding schools disconnected young people from their communities and cultures including land-based knowledge and wisdom. Boarding schools reinforced diets high in starches and dairy and worked to eliminate young Indigenous peoples’ access to traditional meats, vegetables, and fruits. U.S. governmental policies that lack care for environmental impact over the past one hundred years, including the systematic damming of rivers and mining practices, resulted in the loss of the most arable and traditionally significant lands.
Disparities in Health and Food Access:
Inherent differences between Indigenous and Western cultural approaches to food access, combined with lower opportunities for quality, have resulted in a food system ill-equipped to meet the needs of Indigenous communities. Today, Native Americans make up less than 2% of the U.S. population, but experience some of the highest rates of food insecurity, poverty, and diet-related diseases. According to a 2012 study by Bauer et al, almost 40% of families on the Oglala Sioux Reservation reported experiencing food insecurity, and children from food-insecure households were more likely to eat unhealthy types of foods, including items purchased at convenience stores. On the Navajo Nation, a land mass comparable to the state of West Virginia, there are only 13 grocery stores. Often fresh produce is not available at its peak freshness, if available at all. Many Indigenous families have few options for fresh, locally raised produce. There are ample opportunities for an Indigenous led organization to develop community centered approaches to increase access to fresh, nutritious, and locally resourced foods.
Reliance on Non-Indigenous Food Sources:
Furthermore, many Indigenous communities are dependent on external companies to source their groceries. The inherent and traditional practices of growing food, as well as the embedded language usage and cultural practices inherent in growing, are threatened by the current food distribution structure. Indigenous farmers and growers have a disadvantage in producing food for their local current markets, which extract local money to larger off-reservation food corporations. The outcomes of this failure are startling: According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, American Indian sales represented 0.9 percent of total U.S. agriculture sales, and American Indians operated 6.5 % of U.S. farmland. 75% of the 60,000 American Indian farms in the United States made less than $10,000 annually on goods grown on those farms, while 90% make less than $50,000 annually.
The need for a new approach is clear. Prevailing means and methods of providing food to Indigenous communities defined and enforced by U.S. backed policies faltered in implementing sustainable, prosperous, and marketable approaches in the context of Indigenous identity, language, and culture. It is against this reality that the One Gen Indigenous Farm Hub seeks to expand food sovereignty, land sovereignty, and cultural sovereignty with Indigenous communities.
Our New Way Forward
“Food sovereignty is really at the root of cultural sovereignty. It’s what our treaties are for and what our ancestors fought for.”
– Romajean Thomas (Muckleshoot)
The Indigenous Farm Hub builds on and enhances the capacity of existing Indigenous food systems and the intentional efforts that tribal communities are already utilizing. Through a community-guided approach led by Indigenous leadership, the Indigenous Farm Hub aims to:
❖ Revitalize Indigenous languages, culture, and customs tied to land-based and agricultural experiences;
❖ renew traditional agricultural practices while developing modern day business and marketing plans that build farmer prosperity; and
❖ facilitate Indigenous food access and sovereignty with tribal communities.
As an agricultural training facility and production enterprise, it will incubate and create a network of prosperous and sustainable farm operations dedicated to food access and economic opportunities serving Indigenous communities. The network of farms will succeed in providing healthy, locally grown foods while strengthening language and culture and economic opportunity. With tribal communities, the Indigenous Farm Hub defines the standard for sustainable and prosperous agricultural practices and access points, disrupting the current landscape of food inequity and the entrenched structures that interrupted Indigenous people from achieving food sovereignty.
The IFH Strategy
The Indigenous Farm Hub (IFH) is located in central New Mexico and is a working farm that provides the venue for a comprehensive, paid fellowship that integrates sustainable agricultural practices, traditional Indigenous farming knowledge, and Native culture, language, and customs. IFH is in the process of recruiting, identifying, selecting, and supporting Fellows to participate in a two-year program that culminates in the launch of community-responsive farms in their home communities. During year one, Farm Hub Fellows work full-time on the training center farm while engaging in learning experiences that will build on their experiences. The Fellowship curricula covers traditional Indigenous food systems, historical context, diverse planting and growing techniques, sustainable agricultural practices, ties with language and culture, food justice and sovereignty, land reclamation, business planning and viability, and community activism and involvement. In year two, Fellows launch their farm operations in their home communities and will receive start-up funds and operations support from the Farm Hub staff. As a working farm, the Indigenous Farm Hub provides Fellows with a robust agricultural experience while also fostering local community fresh food access through a CSA model, producing value-added products and partnering with established distribution centers. Integral to the model is a strong partnership with local communities in which community-responsive farms will be located in order to ensure the localized farm enterprise amplifies access to fresh produce, fosters job creation, and economic development while also facilitating the vitalization of land-based language and cultural practices.