White Earth Land Recovery Project

Traditional Agriculture Restoration

The Creator has given us many gifts, which at the center of these gifts is food, which sustains our bodies and our spirits. Over the past one hundred years, our people have suffered from loss of these foods, and while we continue to garden, hunt, trap, fish, and harvest wild rice, traditional food production has dropped dramatically. In its place we have industrialized food production, at the bottom of which is food for the poor people. Indigenous agriculture has declined sharply, resulting in massive loss of local seed stocks to Native communities – communities from which much of the world’s food stocks originated (i.e. corn, beans, squash, potatoes and tomatoes). From 1981 to 1994 alone, some 84% of all non-hybrid vegetable varieties in the country have been lost.

Our work in our traditional farming program is about the process of restoring our traditional agriculture and nutrition systems. The White Earth Land Recovery Project is one of the largest Anishinaabeg food producers on the continent, producing both for sale (Native Harvest) and for local consumption (Mino-Miijim) for the purpose of addressing health and poverty related issues with regards to access to traditional Indigenous foods. We provide food for 180 elderly diabetic families on the reservation, both from our stocks, and from leveraging food nationally; and we now are working with approximately 80 families to grow more food locally.

The White Earth Land Recovery Project is committed to the bio-diversity of the Anishinaabeg agriculture and recognize that restoring varieties of corn, beans and squash will insure diversity. We began by growing out an Oneida white flint corn, and now have moved to a Bear Island Flint corn. We are growing out these corn varieties on land we both hold as a project, and with the assistance of local farmers on the reservation. We are hoping to not only save these endangered species, but also within the next decade restore the agricultural diversity and wealth of our community with heirloom varieties. These varieties both offer superior nutritional qualities, and, with our partnership with Slow Food, will be highly valuable in our value-added work at Native Harvest.

In 2003 and 2004, we expanded our food related work significantly, convening Indigenous farmers from the northern and central part of the continent to discuss and strategize on models of traditional food system restoration, traditional seed sharing and saving, and strategies for tribal agricultural systems. This work was joined with an initiative at working with non-Indian farmers in the region.

In 2004, we hosted the national Family Farm Defenders Conference and were able to allow non-Native farmers in northern Minnesota to be exposed to international farming issues ranging from those faced by Percy Schmeiser (who attended our conference) and has been sued by Monsanto for theft of patented GMO canola seed, to agricultural/economic issues presented by luminaries like John Eckerd and the Land Institute. This work is a part of a larger strategy to transform agriculture in northwestern Minnesota and North Dakota, in which our reservation will play a key role.

Midwest Organic Farming Conference – In February 2004 and 2005, WELRP sent 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 Coordinator,
  • Pat Wichern, Sustainable Communities Assistant,
  • Justin Dimmel, Vista Volunteer, (2004)
  • Bernadette Miller, Vista Volunteer, (2004)
  • Kathy Goodwin ,WELRP Board Chairperson,
  • Toni Vizenor, WELRP Board member,
  • Curtis and Darlene Ballard, tribal members, and
  • Winona LaDuke WELRP Founding Director.

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