Why We are Doing this:
On a worldwide scale, Indigenous farmers are already producing, up to 70% of the food eaten in communities, while industrialized agriculture , with it’s upwards of $l3 trillion in investments ( according to Pat Mooney of the ETC), cannot actually feed the world.
This is a moment in Indigenous agriculture in North America. There is a resurgence, a recovery of Indigenous farming, native harvesting, food security, sovereignty, producers and chefs. Seed savers like Rowen White, Carolyn Chartrandand the Minneapolis based Dream of Wild Health are part of a strong movement to restore seeds, bring them out of hiding, and bring them back to the land and people. There is a resurgence in tribal food work- the Grand Ronde Food Sovereignty Project, Hopi Permaculture Project, Oneida Nation Farms, White Earth Land Recovery Project, anda growing number of Native farmers, from Clayton Brascoupe with the Traditional Native American Farmers Association, to Aubrey Skye on the Standing Rock Reservation, gardening for his family and community. Harvesters are working together- the fishers of the north, the wild ricers of Minnesota, and the Ojibwe Maple Syrup Producers Cooperative. There is a growing movement on tribal food policy- led by organizations like the Native Food Sovereignty Alliance, and on the ground producers, and production facilities like those at the Taos Community Economic Development Commission. Stories are being told and shared, and international work is underway- like many of us who have come to the Slow Food Movement, a movement in over l32 countries for food which is fair, clean and just. The seeds, the foods are coming home, or maybe we are just re-establishing our relationship with them again.
The State of Native Agriculture
The US Agricultural census reports 60,000 Native farmers today. These are farmers supporting their families in livestock, grains, and food production –in structures ranging from the massive Navajo Agricultural Product Industry, Gila River enterprises, Tanka Bars, to Tohono O’odam Community Action , the White Earth Land Recovery Project, to a farmer. This is food production at a scale which feeds people, and nations, in many ways, some sustainable- in the practice of nurturing soil, water and people, and some in a corporate model. There would be more, but the checker boarding of tribal lands, and the fact that most tribal agricultural lands are in fact leased to Non Native interests, causes us a problem in long term food security. In short, it is clear that our food systems have been colonized, deconstructed, and our wealth taken by others. Now is the time to decolonize our food systems.
Soil not Oil; Minnesota has Failed
Let us begin with Minnesota. Some 90% of the wetlands have been drained. The western third of Minnesota, including the l855 treaty territory was once covered with wetlands. Today, even though Minnesota is spending millions annually, the state is still losing more than it restores. The Minnesota Pollution Control Commission released a daunting report noting that a fourth of southern Minnesota’s lakes and rivers are too tainted to use as drinking water. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reported overall, 41 percent of Minnesota’s streams and lakes have excessive nitrogen, all of them in the state’s southern and central regions. The nutrient, which is used as fertilizer in agriculture and comes from wastewater treatment plants, can be toxic to fish and other forms of aquatic life. That nitrogen is a primary cause of the vast oxygen-depleted area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone. That dead zone is about a thousand square miles, of destroyed ocean. And, that, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg or a small part of the plume nationally and internationally. Minnesota’s industrial agriculture caused some 70% of the destruction of water quality in Minnesota lakes, and the soybean and corn mono-cropping of the state is a microcosm of national and international problems with industrialized agriculture.
Vandana Shiva’s book, or one of them; which discusses the intersection between a fossil fuels economy, and the destruction of soil. It turns out that soil is what you need to live: good , healthy soil. The more things which end with “cide” we put on them- pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, (all fossil fuels based) combined with the more nitrogen based fertilizers which are added to the soil, the worse things get. After all, if it says “cide” one can only equate it with homicide, suicide, or genocide. In short, a cautious person would not want to have the root word “ cide” associated with something we eat. Without delving into the ecological, human health and natural world impacts of “ cide” on our world, let us say that systemically, the entire system of industrial agriculture is flawed, and it is time to move on.
It is common sense that you cannot fix a problem with the same mindset which created it, and that’s what industrial agriculture attempts to do. It will not work. Or perhaps better said by Trevor Russel, Watershed Program Director for the Friends of the Mississippi, “…Current plans to attack the problem by persuading farmers to adopt expensive and not very effective methods… are just lipstick on a pig… At some point we have to change the pig.”
You cannot treat a plant like a machine. It is a living being, and you cannot disrespect the animals, whether they have wings, fins, roots or paws. You cannot create the condition where there are more antibiotics served and injected into healthy animals than given to sick humans in a country. It will, frankly, not work out over the long term for any of us.