Agriculture – The Path To Food Sovereignty

The Menominee Tribe is one example of an Indigenous Nation in Wisconsin that is using production agriculture to become food sovereign.

According to Feeding America, one in four Indigenous people experience food insecurity compared to one in nine Americans. This can be a result of an economic or social condition, explains Jen Falck, the Partnership Program Coordinator for the Menominee Tribe’s Department of Agriculture and Food Systems. She says there’s also communities in Wisconsin where families live in a food desert — an area where it is difficult to buy affordable or healthy food.

And for a tribal family, they often times don’t have access to their traditional foods, Falck says.

“We’re finding that when tribal families have connections or access to their traditional foods, it improves their health in all kinds of different ways,” she says.

Falck works on food security initiatives within the Menominee Tribe. These include: plant giveaways, backyard garden services, and putting together a demonstration farm. She also spends a lot of time on the statewide Tribal Elder Food Box Program.

In the first year, the multi-tribe food box program delivered almost 11,000 boxes to elders in 2021. The food in the boxes was Indigenous or locally produced. Each box also had a culturally appropriate food. In 2022, the program grew to encompass all 11 tribes in Wisconsin, putting out almost 25,000 boxes.

“The response has been awesome from all 11 tribal communities,” she says. “We hope to do more this year.”

Falck explains that some tribes have been farming since creation, and for others, it’s new. The sizeof the farms range from community gardens to cash cropping. Commodities range from beef and bison to orchard fruit and white corn.

In the Menominee Nation, construction is underway to turn a small farm into a demonstration farm to teach tribal families how to grow corn and raise beef, to name a few things.

“We want to be able to help tribal families become food sovereign,” Falck says. She breaks down food sovereignty into three levels: family, tribal, and intertribal.

“People are getting more interested in providing and growing their own food,” she explains. “I think that the health outcomes here and in many other tribal communities aren’t great. There’s a lot of diabetes, a lot of high blood pressure, heart disease — I think families are becoming more interested in those issues and starting at home with their food production and diets to help improve those health outcomes.”