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Reclaiming Indigenous Food Sovereignty
What was once a rare disease, type two diabetes is now the highest amongst Native American and Alaskan Native adults and children than any other racial and ethnic group in the United States. Those children, particularly living on or near reservation and tribal lands, are more likely to experience type 2 diabetes, food insecurity, and obesity in comparison to all other children in the United States. Food access is an issue at multiple levels: access to seasonally available wild foods, financial access to fresh, whole foods, and access to the cultural knowledge to prepare and preserve traditional foods. The biggest contributors to this loss in food access were forced removals from native lands onto barren reservations, forced assimilation in Native American Boarding Schools, and the government-provided commodity food that was then distributed to those on reservations. Those foods commonly included white flour, lard, sugar, dairy products, and canned meats- a major contrast from the unprocessed, whole, traditional foods they were use to.
It is because of this epidemic, people within the Indigenous communities are working towards an indigenous foods movement as a means of cultural renewal, environmental sustainability, and a way to reclaim Food Sovereignty.
“Indigenous food sovereignty is the act of going back to our roots as Indigenous peoples and using the knowledge and wisdom of our people that they used when they oversaw their own survival. This includes the ability to define one’s own food sources and processes, such as the decision to hunt, trap, fish, gather, harvest, grow and eat based on Indigenous culture and ways of life.”
Below, is a TedxTalk from Sean Sherman, who further discusses where the traditional knowledge got lost, and how himself and many other indigenous folks are taking matters into their own hands, reclaiming their Indigenous Food Sovereignty.
Here, we will be listing just a few of the many Indigenous people/ Indigenous-led Organizations reclaiming Food Sovereignty within the United States.
An online cooking show dedicated to re-indigenizing diets using digital media. Using foods native to their Americas, Indigikitchen gives viewers the important tools they need to find and prepare food in their own communities. Beyond that, it strengthens the ties to their cultures and reminds them of the inherent worth of their identities while fueling their physical bodies.
Brian Yazzie “Yazzie the Chef”
A Diné/Navajo chef and food justice activist from Dennehotso, Arizona and based out of Saint Paul, MN. He is the founder of Intertribal Foodways catering company, a YouTube creator under Yazzie The Chef TV, a delegate of Slow Food Turtle Island Association, and a member at I-Collective. Yazzie’s career is devoted to the betterment of tribal communities, wellness, and health.
Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef
Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota, born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been cooking across the US and World for the last 30 years. His main culinary focus has been on the revitalization and awareness of indigenous foods systems in a modern culinary context. Sean has studied on his own extensively to determine the foundations of these food systems which include the knowledge of Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migrational histories, elemental cooking techniques, and Native culture and history in general to gain a full understanding of bringing back a sense of Native American cuisine to today’s world.
The Sioux Chef team works to make indigenous foods more accessible to as many communities as possible. To open opportunities for more people to learn about Native cuisine and develop food enterprises in their tribal communities.
Three Sisters Gardens
Farmer Alfred Melbourne is the owner and operator of Three Sisters Gardens and a long time resident of West Sacramento. Based on traditional native teachings, Three Sisters Gardens is an Indidgenous-led organization with a mission to teach at risk youth how to grow/harvest/distribute organic vegetables, connect Native youth back to the land, build connections with community elders, and reclaim food sovereignty. They donate food to the Yolo Food Bank, and also hold a “Free Farm” stand where they offer their veggies free to to the community.
Linda Black Elk
Linda Black Elk is an ethnobotanist who serves as the Food Sovereignty Coordinator at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota. She specializes in teaching about Indigenous plants and their uses as food and medicine. She teaches classes like “Food Preservation and Storage” and “From Farm and Forage to Fork.” She also uses her wealth of knowledge and charismatic ways of connecting through her YouTube channel, covering topics like making homemade cedar blueberry cough syrup, drying squash varieties, and how to make plant-based medicines at home for various health support.
Black Elk’s drive to make wild plants and plant medicine accessible, applicable, and relevant is so strong it resonates throughout all she does. She is also a founding board member of the Mni Wichoni Health Circle, an organization devoted to decolonized medicines.
Reclaiming control over local food systems is an important step toward ensuring the long-lasting health and economic well-being of Native people and communities. Native food system control has proven to increase food production, improve health and nutrition, and eliminate food insecurity in rural and reservation-based communities, while also promoting entrepreneurship and economic development.
This is Indigenous resilience, moving through the era of disconnection to their foods and traditions and reclaiming their intergenerational knowledge.
The Davis Food Co-op occupies land that belongs to three federally recognized Patwin tribes: Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community, Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation, and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.
The 2023 Farm Bill- Agovacy at its finest!
Resigned and reauthorized every five years, the largest piece of food-related legislation is up next year, the Farm Bill. This bill determines policy and funding levels for agriculture, food assistance programs, natural resources, and other aspects of food and agriculture under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its impact on the farming industry, its related programs and industries, and the communities they support is tremendous.
The original Farm Bill was enacted during the 1930s as part of the New Deal and had three main goals:
- Keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers.
- Ensure an adequate food supply.
- Protect and sustain the country’s vital natural resources.
While each new Farm Bill is unique, and 18 bills have followed the initial one, the issues addressed in the last 2018 Farm Bill encompassed agricultural commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, research, extension and related matters, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance and miscellaneous. To the left is a chart of the $428 million dollars that went towards farm and program support in the last bill.
Discussions on what is due to be the 2023 Farm Bill have already begun at field hearings and producer meetings across the country, where stakeholders have been vocalizing their recommendations and priorities for the next Farm Bill:
- The American Soybean Association shared their soy industries 2023 Farm Bill priorities
- The National Association of Wheat Growers released their 2023 Farm Bill priorities
- The American Farmland Trust’s formal recommendation
- Native Farm Bill Coalition’s Successes from the 2018 Farm Bill and Opportunities for the 2023 bill
- Recommendations from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
The current baseline for Farm Bill programs for the next five years is $648 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s May 2022 estimates. A new estimate in spring 2023 will set the budget for the new Farm Bill.
Here is a quick rundown of what the process of passing the Farm Bill looks like:
Legislatively, it all begins with hearings in Washington, DC and across the country – these are listening sessions where members of Congress take input from the public and organizations about what they want to see in a new bill.
- AGRICULTURAL COMMITTEES
House and Senate Agriculture Committees each draft, debate, amend and change, and eventually pass a bill; the two committees work on separate bills that can have substantial differences.
- FULL CONGRESS / “THE FLOOR”
Each committee bill goes next to “the floor” – the full House of Representatives or Senate. Each bill is debated, amended, and voted on again by its respective body (House or Senate).
- CONFERENCE COMMITTEE
After both the full House and Senate have passed a Farm Bill – which can take a while, and may require a bill being sent back to committee for more work before passage, the two bills (House and Senate) go to a smaller group of Senators and Representatives called a “Conference Committee,” which combines the two separate bills into one compromise package. Conferees are typically chosen mostly from House and Senate Agriculture Committee members.
- FULL CONGRESS
The combined version of the Conference Committee’s Farm Bill then goes back to the House and Senate floors to be debated – and potentially passed.
- LAST STEP: THE WHITE HOUSE
Once the House and Senate approve a final Farm Bill, the bill goes to the President, who can veto it and send it back to Congress or sign it into law.
Once the Farm Bill is signed into law, it’s time for the Appropriations phase: Setting money aside in the yearly federal budget to fund the programs in the Farm Bill, which the federal government operates on a fiscal year from October 1st to September 30th.
Happening simultaneously with the annual appropriations process is Rulemaking. After Congress passes a Farm Bill, the USDA is responsible for writing the actual rules for how these programs will be implemented on the ground.
The recent pass of the Inflation Reduction Act will play a major role in the Farm Bill
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown says the Inflation Reduction Act should help jumpstart the 2023 Farm Bill process.
“When we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, we funded some farm programs ahead of time, something we’ve never done,” he says. “So, this Farm Bill should be more productive and more helpful both to consumers and farmers because we planned for it better than we have in the past.”
According to an analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Inflation Reduction Act will provide about a 47% increase over previous Farm Bill levels.
And with the Biden Administration making Climate Change a federal priority, it is likely that the new Farm Bill will reflect such efforts.
No exception to previous years, the final draft of the bill will impact every American in a way that so few others do and will require immense collaboration and compromise on both sides of the aisle — and the final product will impact the food and beverage ecosystem for generations to come.
Recognizing and Appreciating Farmworkers in the Field
The Davis Food Co-op would like to recognize and appreciate all of the Farmworkers at Local Farms and beyond for the valuable role that they play in maintaining our food system and making the items that can be found at the Co-op so easily accessible. Through a pandemic, heat wave, wildfires and more, they are still out there working hard every day so that we can all have food on our tables. It is incumbent upon us all to show gratitude for the people that make every meal of ours possible throughout the entire year by recognizing the challenges that they face and advocating for protections for these workers
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Issues Farmworkers Face
Modern accessibility to food combined with a fast pace lifestyle can make it easy to overlook the importance of what is happening behind the scenes of the services we utilize on a daily basis. For many of us, we throw away our trash without any thought of the garbage collector that wakes up before the sun to take it away for us, we wear clothing without consideration for the person whose hands stitched it all together and all too often, we purchase and consume our food with no appreciation for the farmworker who picked that food for us, even in the harshest of conditions. Farmworkers keep the entire world fed by working in sometimes dangerous conditions, and yet they are often not protected by the same laws that protect other workers.
Often, the first step towards positive change is through acknowledgement of the issues at hand. We believe that pushing for this positive change is the best way that we can truly show appreciation for our farmworkers. The most recent data that we have on farmworkers in the U.S. comes from a 2015-16 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers (NAW) Survey. Among many findings, the NAW reported that:
- There are an estimated 2.4 million farmworkers laboring on our nation’s farms and ranches, cultivating and harvesting crops and raising and tending to livestock.
- The farm labor workforce is a predominantly immigrant workforce. According to the NAWS, approximately 75% of farmworkers are immigrants. Approximately 49% of farmworkers are immigrants who lack work authorization.
- Due to the seasonal nature of the work on many crop farms, the large majority of crop workers do not work year round, even if they work for more than one farm in a single year. Farmworkers averaged 33 weeks of farm work over the course of a year and worked an average of 45 hours per week.
- 57% of farmworkers are married, and 55% of farmworkers have children
- Farmworkers averaged $10.60 per hour in wages. The average annual individual income of farmworkers was in the range of $17,500 – $19,999.
- 33% of farmworker families had incomes below the poverty line. However, because the survey results did not include dependents living outside of the United States, this number may not completely reflect the full number of families living in poverty.
- Despite the high level of poverty, most farmworkers do not receive any public benefits. At the time of this study, only 18% of farmworkers received food stamps, 17% received WIC (a supplemental nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) and 43% received health insurance through a government program, like Medicaid.
- Most farmworkers (53%) have no health insurance, and limited access to health care, making them particularly vulnerable to environmental and occupational health hazards. It was found that 71% of workers reported that their employer did not provide health insurance or pay for medical treatment for injuries or illnesses suffered outside of work. Only 18% of employers offer health insurance to their workers.
Organizations to Support
There are many great organizations that are actively advocating for farmworkers, both locally and nationally. We encourage you to check them out to learn more about the work that they are doing and how you can get involved and let us know of any other organizations we may have missed by emailing [email protected].
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF): www.crlaf.org/
“CRLAF is a statewide non-profit civil legal aid organization providing free legal services and policy advocacy for California’s rural poor. We focus on some of the most marginalized communities: the unrepresented, the unorganized and the undocumented. We engage in community education and outreach, impact litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, and public policy leadership at the state and local level. We seek to bring about social justice to rural poor communities by working to address the most pressing needs of our community: Labor, Housing, Education Equity, Health Care Access, Worker Safety, Citizenship, Immigration, and Environmental Justice.”
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF): www.caff.org
“Founded in 1978, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and The Farmers Guild is a California-based nonprofit that builds sustainable food and farming systems through local and statewide policy advocacy and on-the-ground programs in an effort to initiate institutionalized change. Our programs address current problems and challenges in food and farming systems, creating more resilient family farms, communities and ecosystems. We work to support family farmers and serve community members throughout the state, including consumers, food service directors, schoolchildren and low-income populations with the aim of growing a more resilient, just and abundant food system for all Californians.”
The National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH): www.ncfh.org/
“The National Center for Farmworker Health is a private, not-for-profit corporation located in Buda, Texas dedicated to improving the health status of farmworker families. We provide information services, training and technical assistance, and a variety of products to community and migrant health centers nationwide, as well as organizations, universities, researchers and individuals involved in farmworker health.”
Farmworker Justice: farmworkerjustice.org/
“Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice. We work with farmworkers and their organizations throughout the nation. Based in Washington, D.C., Farmworker Justice was founded in 1981. In 1996, Farmworker Justice became a subsidiary corporation of UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza), the nation’s largest constituency-based Hispanic civil rights organization.”
United Farm Workers: ufw.org
“The UFW continues organizing in major agricultural sectors, chiefly in California. Recent years have witnessed dozens of UFW union contract victories protecting thousands of farm workers, among them agreements with the some of the largest berry, winery, tomato, dairy and mushroom companies in California and the nation. More than 75 percent of California’s fresh mushroom industry is now under union contract. Many recent UFW-sponsored laws and regulations protect all farm workers in California, especially those at non-union ranches. They include the first state standards in the U.S. to prevent further deaths and illnesses from extreme heat and in 2016 the first law in the country providing farm workers in California with overtime pay after eight hours a day. The UFW continues to actively champion legislative and regulatory reforms for farm workers covering issues such as worker protections, pesticides and immigration reform.”