When people lose the land they have lived with for generations, they also lose the food traditions shaped by that place. As Sioux master gardener Diane Wilson, director of Dream of Wild Health farm in Hugo, Minnesota, explains, “Our people became disconnected from the land. Once you lose that, you lose your relationship with the food. It’s central to our culture: Traditions, song, ceremonies, all were connected to food.”
The destruction of Native food traditions was a central part of the colonization process. Native people who were confined to reservations, many of which were far from their original territories, often became dependent on government rations of sugar, lard, canned goods, and flour. Today, the rates of diabetes and heart disease in Native communities can be twice the national average. As Arapahoe activist Ernie Whiteman, cultural coordinator of Dream of Wild Health explains, “We lost our traditional ways of raising our food and we became dependent upon a totally foreign food that is killing us to this day.” At Dream of Wild Health, he says, “we’re doing a recovery process.”
Dream of Wild Health is a 10-acre organic farm described as “a place of learning, a place of celebration, a place of being, becoming and belonging” for the Native community. It is home to three main programs: the organic farm itself, a seed bank, and educational programs for local youth. The farm sells produce at farmer’s markets and through a CSA, accepting trades and EBT (food stamps) in the effort to support a broader community.
The seed bank at Dream of Wild Health started in 2000, when Potawatomi elder and Keeper of the Seeds Cora Baker heard about the farm and sent in her carefully-kept varieties of indigenous corn, squash, beans, sunflower, tobacco, and medicinal plants. After that, word spread. “Seeds began arriving in the mail. Some came knotted up in a handkerchief, with a note saying, ‘My grandmother wanted you to have these.’ Another family donated Cherokee corn seeds that were carried on the original Trail of Tears.” Today, Dream of Wild Health has more than 300 seed varieties in their collection.
The youth programs at Dream of Wild Health are similarly working to keep Native food traditions alive, as well as keeping local kids and teens healthy. Each summer, Dream of Wild Health runs camps for American Indian families and teens. “The families start each morning in circle with staff, learning to smudge and pray with tobacco. We don’t allow cell phones, video games, or any electronic devices. The families learn to plant, grow, harvest and cook fresh, organic vegetables. Some of them have never seen corn growing in a field or tasted a fresh picked green bean.” Teens also learn how to market produce, in the hope they might consider farming in the future, and do their part to keep their cultural traditions alive. “At Dream of Wild Health, we believe that children are sacred, wakan. They are the future, just like the precious seeds in our collection.”
To learn more about the programs at Dream of Wild Health, visit Dream of wild health.
Quotes come from Saving Seeds in Indian Country, by Judy Keen: Saving indigenous seeds in indian country.
For information on related subjects, check out Decolonizing diet project.blogspot and Eating indigenously changes diets and lives of native americans.