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.
Support (Y)our Local Food Security Organizations
support (y)our local food security Organizations
As of October 2022, grocery store prices are 5.3% higher than they were a year ago. To put this in perspective, during the decade prior to the start of the pandemic the average annual increase in grocery store prices were only about 1.3%.
Supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and Climate Change are some of the major leading factors for why we are seeing such high inflation increases.
Because of this, more people are struggling to get access to food, resulting in more folks experiencing food insecurity.
Food-insecure is defined by households that are uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, at some time during the year, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.
There are many non-profits and charities that are working to address food insecurity and increase food sovereignty.
We’re highlighting a few of the local organizations here in Davis and two in Sacramento, giving details on when and where they distribute food if you or someone you know is in need.
All of these local organizations are best supported through volunteering, donations of food and financial donations, and spreading the word to members of the community. Links will be included for both volunteering and donating options for each organization.
The Night Market
Established in 2019, The Night Market’s mission is to reduce food waste and increase food security in Davis while fostering a sense of community. They recover food that would otherwise go to waste from Davis restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores. They also have a focus on sustainability by prioritizing bikes equipped with carts to transport food, to minimize their carbon emissions.
They provide the free meals Monday-Friday, from 9pm- 11pm in Central Park and is available for anyone that is in need.
For the times that they have leftovers, they package the remaining food in compostable containers and drop them off at the Freedge that is hosted at the Davis Food Co-op.
Davis Food Not Bombs/Sacramento Food Not Bombs
Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer movement that recovers food that would otherwise be discarded, and shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities in 65 countries in protest to war, poverty, and destruction of the environment. There are two local Food Not Bombs, one in Davis and one in Sacramento.
Davis Food Not Bombs serves meals every 2nd and 4th Sundays
at Central Park (4th & C) from 1-2pm
If you’re interested in getting involved, send them an email at [email protected], message them on Instagram or Facebook.
Sacramento Food Not Bombs serves a free vegan meal every Sunday at 1:30pm at Cesar Chavez Plaza (Between 9th & 10th and I and J Street)
If you’d like to volunteer with Sacramento Food Not Bombs or make a donation of food or funds, please contact us at email@example.com for more information.
Both will also accept anyone to just show up at the serving times and chat with them to discuss ways you can get involved.
Established in 2016, NorCal Resist fights injustices through making a positive impact in their communities. They host educational events and trainings, organize actions, and maintain a variety of resources and programs that provide support to those in need.
NorCal Resist does food distribution in several ways – Monthly drive thru distributions where they partner with the Sacramento Food Bank, a community table at their monthly brake light clinics, and direct deliveries to their community at home, as needed. They have a Mutual Aid Farm, Seeds of Solidarity, which has distributed over 1,800 pounds of organic food to the community so far this year.
Dates, times, and locations of their distribution programs can be found through their Instagram.
More information to volunteer for one of their programs can be found here.
Fourth and Hope
Fourth & Hope serves dinner each night at 5 p.m. to anyone in need of a hot meal. Breakfast and lunch are offered to clients staying at the shelter. Location is 1901 E Beamer St, Woodland, CA 95776
Information on volunteering can be found here.
Purchase items from their wishlist here.
Yolo Food Bank
Yolo Food Bank coordinates the recovery, storage, and distribution of more than 11 million pounds of food annually. They collaborate with a network of grocers and retailers, farmers and distributors, the private sector and governmental agencies, and 64 nonprofit partner organizations countywide. They distribute food through these 4 programs:
Eat Well Yolo
Providing weekly distributions of fresh produce, dairy,
meat, and other non-perishable goods.
Eat Home Yolo
Delivering groceries to low income senior citizens, people with disabilities, or mobility-restricted neighbors.
Kids Farmers Market
Supporting elementary-school-aged children’s access to local produce and nutrition education.
Supplying fresh produce, shelf-stable food, and personal care products to 64+ nonprofit partners countywide.
You can volunteer individually or in a group to pack food, distribute food, and/or volunteer as a driver. Find all this information on volunteering here.
Find food near you
Many students at UC Davis find themselves choosing between basic essentials such as food and hygiene products and the required costs of college. It is for this reason that The Pantry was established in 2010 to help offset these financial burdens and ensure that students may continue on to successfully complete and obtain their degrees.
The Pantry is open to all students, staff, and faculty at UC Davis. This also includes graduate, PhD, and postdoctoral students, serving folks of all levels of income and need.
Their current Fall 2022 Schedule is:
Monday & Wednesday & Friday: 10:30am – 4:00pm
Tuesday & Thursday: 9:30am – 4:00pm
Saturday & Sunday: 12:00pm – 2:00pm
While walk-ins are welcome, they also have an online portal to order non-perishable items in advance, and have a digital list, that is updated hourly, to show what perishable items they currently have.
They have volunteer opportunities for student, which more information can be found here.
More than 90% of funding for The Pantry comes from community donations.
Davis Community Meals and Housing
Davis Community Meals and Housing offers a free meal on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and lunch on Saturday from 11:30 am to 12:15 pm at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, located at 640 Hawthorn Lane, Davis, CA 95616.
The food is prepared and served by individual community volunteers, religious organizations, school groups, UC Davis and community service groups, and many others.
Volunteers help prepare the meals, set up the dining hall, serve the meals and clean up the kitchen and hall at the conclusion of the meal. Volunteers are needed from 9 am to 11:30 am and from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm on Tuesdays and from 9 am to 1 pm on Saturdays.
Find more information on Volunteering here
Purchase items from their wish list
The Freedge aims to reduce food insecurity and food waste, while simutaneously building a stronger, more sustainable community. They promote equal access to healthy food through the installation of community freedges (public refrigerators) that are for anyone who is in need within the community.
There are currently 5 Freedges throughout Davis:
Davis Food Co-op
UCD Memorial Union
1221 Eureka Ave
2013 Whittier Dr
Perishable and non-perisable items can be dropped off by anyone from the community (excluding raw meat or alcohol).
“Take what you need, give what you don’t.”
Freedge Locations Map
There isn’t one solution to food insecurity, but many. It requires an approach that includes government policy, better housing, employment opportunities, social assistance, training and education, affordable fresh food markets, and more.
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.
A Conversation With Emma Torbert From Cloverleaf Farm
We were fortunate to have the chance to speak with Emma Torbert from Cloverleaf Farm to hear about the unique structure they have and the sustainable practices that they use. Emma got her masters in Horticulture from UCD and worked for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis for seven years. Cloverleaf is an 8-acre organic orchard and farm outside of Davis, California on the Collins Farm that specializes in peaches, nectarines, apricots, figs, berries, and vegetables. The Cloverleaf follows regenerative principles including no-till, rotational grazing, and cover-cropping. The farm is co-owned by Emma Torbert, Katie Fyhrie, Kaitlin Oki, Yurytzy Sanchez, Neil Singh, Tess Kremer, and Kyle Chambers; who all manage the farm together in a cooperative and consensus-based fashion. You can find The Cloverleaf Farm’s produce at the Sacramento Farmers Market on Sundays and at various grocery stores in Davis, Sacramento, and the Bay Area.
Cloverleaf seems to break the mold of what a traditional farm functions like. Traditionally farms are passed down generationally within families, but all of your farmers come from diverse backgrounds, how did that model get started at Cloverleaf?
“We started out a group of four women and then the farm passed through a number of different partners. As different people were leaving we were realizing that for the sake of future transitions and the longevity of the farm operation a worker-owned cooperative farm would be best, although we are currently still structured as a partnership. There are currently seven partners right now.”
“We’ve been working with the California Center for Co-op Development for the last four years trying to figure out a way that everybody can own equal equity in the farm. 2014 was the first time that we started profit sharing and equity sharing. The equity sharing is not yet equal but that is what we are working with the CCCD on.”
“One of our core principles in our vision statement is working as a team. An important thing in thinking about farm management for us is recognizing everybody’s different skills and working together without an established hierarchical structure. We rotate who gets to be the crew leader every couple of weeks, so they are essentially the boss for those two weeks, which means everyone gets a chance to step into a leadership role.”
How do you limit your greenhouse emissions?
“In terms of limiting our carbon footprint, we do a number of things. In terms of the transportation of our food, we try to deliver as locally as possible. We purposefully choose markets that are closer and do not take our products further than the bay area. We are always making the decision to try to sell closer to home.”
“As for what happens in the field, all of our vegetables get grown no-till. Our orchards and all of our annual crops are no-till, which means that we don’t use a tractor very often at all. In doing that we use less fossil fuel. We’ve also put solar panels around the farm, and can’t wait until we can add more.”
“Something else that really contributes to greenhouse gas emissions is water use. We use moisture sensors so that we use as little water as possible. We tread that fine line of watering as little as possible without stunting the growth of the trees in our orchards.”
What are your pest management practices?
“We are an organic farm so we don’t spray any pesticides while the fruit is on the trees. We do use pheromone sprays, which disrupt the mating cycles of a lot of stone fruit pests. We put out raptor perches and owl boxes. The main pests that we have trouble with are ground squirrels and gophers.”
How do you try to limit your food waste?
We’ve been trying lots of different things for many years and I feel like this year it’s all coming together, we have very little food waste coming from our farm right now. Our compost pile is pretty tiny right now considering the size of our farm.
“We have an Ugly Fruit club, which allows people to buy our third-grade fruit at a discounted price. We also create a lot of value-added products like jams and dried fruit, which allows us to still sell our less aesthetic fruit instead of wasting it.”
“Something else that we do is donate to the food bank, especially this year when we’re worried about our community being food insecure.”
Farming While Black – Leah Penniman Speech
From EcoFarm’s YouTube Channel:
“Some of our most cherished sustainable farming practices have roots in African wisdom. Yet discrimination and violence against African- American farmers has led to a decline from 14% of all growers in 1920 to less than 2% today. Soul Fire Farm, co-founded by author, activist, and farmer Leah Penniman, is committed to ending racism and injustice in our food system. Earlier this year at the EcoFarm Conference, Leah shared how you too can be part of the movement for food sovereignty and help build a food system based on justice, dignity, and abundance for all members of our community.”
“Leah Penniman is a Black Kreyol educator, farmer/peyizan, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 and has been farming since 1996. Leah is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs – including farmer training for Black & Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for communities living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land is a love song for the land and her people.”