Thursday, October 30, 2014

Intertribal Agriculture Council Essay Contest: Still time to get essays in!

Intertribal Agriculture Council's annual Youth Essay Contest is still open for entries! This year's theme is "Feeding the Future & Filling the Age Gap in Indian Agriculture," and each of the three winners will receive an all-expenses paid trip for themselves and an adult chaperone to attend the 2014 IAC Membership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.

More information about essay requirements, including submission guidelines and information, can be found on IAC's website. This year's theme focuses in on an extremely important issue for Indian Country: the most recent National Ag Census reported that out of 71,947 American Indian and Alaska Native operators, only 6,832 of them were under the age of thirty-five. With the average age of the Native farmer-- and all farmers-- continuing to rise, an influx of younger operators will be crucial to the future of Indian Country agriculture.

Fortunately, we know some amazing youth with the courage to lead who are already doing great work for Indian Country agriculture-- we hope to see many essay contest entries from our first class of Summit participants!

The deadline for entries is November 1st, so get those essays in soon!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Intertribal National Food Systems Scan

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law is embarking on an intertribal national scan of community-based food system innovations, a project generously funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The first step of that project kicked off today with the launch of an online survey to gather information on projects and programs throughout Indian Country that represent a significant shift from the way food is primarily grown, produced, distributed or consumed. 

Anyone with knowledge of such programs – including projects they themselves have initiated or are involved with – is welcome to complete the survey. The Initiative hopes that this scan will inform Tribal governments, Tribal nonprofits, and others involved in food systems work, enabling them to learn from each other and draw from a working, living document that will facilitate more broadly shared information between Tribes. There are exciting things happening in Indian Country food systems; sharing with one another is a means to more broadly support one another and contribute to the intertribal conversations that will help Indian Country food systems continue to grow. 

IFAI will continue to receive survey responses until Monday, January 12, 2015. The food systems scan developed from the survey will be available publicly in Spring 2015. 


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Week of Celebrating Native #WomeninAg

IFAI Director, Janie Hipp (Chickasaw), attended a dialogue at the White House today, focusing on the future of women in agriculture. USDA, through Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and the White House, through the White House Rural Council office, sponsored the talk, inviting stakeholders from across the ag sector to participate in a dialogue about the importance of women to the future of
agricultural production. Participants were welcomed by Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Harden of USDA and Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. In attendance were representatives from agribusinesses, universities, youth organizations, and nonprofit organizations, all discussing barriers women face in the ag sector, successful ongoing and past efforts to place women in the ag sector in leadership roles, and how to support future generations of young women in this crucial field. As IFAI's representative for this meeting, Janie lifted up the importance of Native women and their contributions to agriculture, both now and in the past, as well as the critical need to engage more of our young women in this space.

During the discussion, participants brought up the importance of financial literacy as well as solid estate and succession planning. The dialogue highlighted the troubling problem of the aging of the American farmer, both in and out of Indian Country, a problem that affects all farmers regardless of gender: the most recent national agriculture census data shows that the average age of all principal operators in the US is 58.3 years, while average ages for American Indian and Alaska Native operators and female operators are 55.5 and 60, respectively. Young farmers are difficult to find-- the census data's lowest participant category is for farmers 25 and younger, with only 10,714 young farmers responding. Panel participants at the White House today concluded that aggressive m
arketing is needed across genders to support all young people who wish to have careers in agriculture. Stakeholders from across the industry made suggestions about the recruitment of young women into agriculture, as well as continuing support for young men. The dialogue included a discussion about corporate stakeholders partnering with universities to create better mentoring and internship opportunities for youth, as well as corporations embedding support for young producers all along the supply chain.

Focusing specifically on Indian Country, Ken Auer of Farm Credit Council noted that the highest number of farms and ranches owned by women is in Indian Country. Auer also said that Farm Credit Council is currently looking for new and innovative ways to support Native women in agriculture.

One of the points made during today's discussion was that we need to be more intentional about elevating the honoring of dynamic women in agriculture. We're going to spend our week doing just that: we'll be posting, blogging, and tweeting about the amazing Native women in ag who inspire us-- beginning, of course, with the twenty-one incredible young women from our first class of Native Youth in Agriculture Summer Summit participants.

Discussions like this one only further remind us of the importance of programs that focus on our youth-- all of them. The future of Indian Country agriculture is theirs, and they deserve our strongest support. We need to highlight their accomplishments and imbue them with the courage to lead their communities.  You all inspire us!

Who inspires YOU? Let us know! Use #WomeninAg to join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook!

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's time to #FixFDPIR

Something is rotting in the state of FDPIR, and it’s cases of food.

Recently, an Indian Tribal Organization (ITO) for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) received a shipment of fruits and vegetables that were covered in mold. The pictures in this post portray part of the delivery of rotten oranges and peppers they received. Forced to return their entire shipment of green peppers, cauliflower, and oranges, as spoiled and unfit for human consumption, the clients they serve must go without—again. This is not the first shipment of spoiled food this ITO has received, and with a pattern of such poor service and no action by their Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) Regional Office, it is not likely to be the last, either.

These repeated shipments of bad produce would be bad enough on their own, but they come on the heels of a summer-long protein shortage in the FDPIR packages, a shortage that affected all FDPIR participants. The Mountain Plains programs were particularly slim on protein during the summer months, and while officials pointed to a nationwide beef shortage after an unexpectedly harsh winter, this protein shortage curiously seemed to affect only FDPIR, and not the other commodity food assistance programs also administered by USDA-FNS. The protein shortage follows months of shortages of most of the other foods in the food package; in some cases up to 30% of the foods in the package were unavailable for delivery and not on warehouse shelves managed by FNS.

FDPIR is intended to provide on-reservation support for low-income Tribal households who need access to a healthy supply of food. One hundred and thirteen ITO’s and state agencies administer the program for over 270 tribes and work with an average of 76,000 participants each month to order packages and maintain warehouses. One of the goals of FDPIR, as acknowledged by the National FDPIR Board, is to “improve the nutritional quality of the diets of participating individuals.” These repeated shipments of rotten produce directly contravene that goal, as does the complete failure of the program over the summer to provide participants with an acceptable variety of protein. A national supply of bison protein is available and moving to commercial markets around the country, yet including bison protein in the FDPIR food package has never made it out of the discussion stage with FNS—a discussion stage that has lasted now for at least four years.

This is not the first time Indian Country has received food from the United States government that is far less than adequate. The fraught history of the commodities diet, with mold-infested cheese and spoiled vegetables, is a not-too distant memory for many Tribes. For commodity feeding programs in Indian Country, it seems as though the past has unfortunately been prologue to the problems of the present.

We will not return to the days of green cheese and moldering milk. The problems in FDPIR are not the fault of the tribes; they are the responsibility of the federal government. The United States government as well as the companies delivering these food products have legal, contractual responsibilities to FDPIR participants to deliver food that is, at a bare minimum, safe for human consumption. Further, federal regulations surrounding the administration of FDPIR make clear that products that are spoiled and unfit for human consumption shall be replaced by the Department of Agriculture through FNS (7 CFR 250.13(f) and 250.13(g)).

If the USDA, through FNS, cannot carry out those responsibilities and fix the administrative problems on the federal level that leave warehouse shelves empty and force participants to go hungry, perhaps it is time for Indian Country to mobilize around this issue and lead Tribes into a new space that stands up local food production and distribution on a Tribal level. Moving to a SNAP system is not the answer: SNAP requires ready access to a vendor, i.e., a grocery store. That is an untenable solution for many people living on large reservations, where the nearest grocery store may require a 300 mile round trip. We can’t just throw a SNAP EBT card at the problem of hunger in Indian Country and expect good results, but we have lands and resources to build a robust system of local food production that feeds our people locally. Building that system will take time, but it is an important piece of our sovereignty.

How do we fix FDPIR? We see two choices: FNS must do the job the law requires, or FNS must instead support Indian Country as we begin to feed our own people. It won’t happen overnight, but the longer we wait, the more these intractable problems become the norm. No one should go hungry in Indian Country. This is unacceptable.

Do you have thoughts on how to #FixFDPIR? Tweet at us @IFAIUark with that hashtag.

IFAI Director Weighs In on the Importance of Civic Science

Initiative Director Janie Hipp attended a workshop last week at the National Science Foundation's division of Social and Economic Science. Janie was joined by other advocates, policymakers, scientists, and educators for a two-day conference focusing on the importance of civic science to the future of a democratic society. The program, sponsored by the University of Iowa and supported by a grant from the NSF, asked participants "to delineate what civic science is, to specify how it differs from citizen science and activist street science, and to generate best practices for civic science." Ultimately, the program organizers hoped to use this discussion to craft professional and educational policy goals. 

Civic science focuses on the values that drive scientific inquiry in public policy arenas. As a school of thought, it encourages scientists working in public policy areas to hone their relational skills and grow their ability to think strategically about a scientific inquiry that is interconnected with policy goals. The purpose of this type of civic-minded science is to help scientific discoveries come out of the academy and take root in the real world, where they shape policy and offer solutions to society in a tangible, practical way. As the Initiative's representative at the workshop, Janie was able to advocate for Indian Country and articulate the importance of the philosophy of civic science as applied to food and agricultural production for Tribes. 

You can read the workshop write-up here on the Huffington Post Blog, where it was featured earlier this week

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Native American Natural Foods Profiled in National Retailer Publication

Native American Natural Foods (NANF)-- maker of the delicious and nutritionally dense Tanka Bar, among other products-- was profiled in September's issue of the Costco Connection. Co-founders Karlene Hunter (Oglala Lakota) and Mark Tilsen give great insights into the development of their business over time as well as the history and cultural significance of their product, a buffalo-based protein bar.

You can check out Tanka Bar's write-up on their website, and you can read the full article here.

As co-founder Tilsen explains in the article, NANF's success in accessing a major national retailer like Costco is a critical step forward, but not just for NANF alone. This success showcases a range of viable business opportunities in agribusiness-- opportunities that do not belong solely to large corporations, but which could belong instead to smaller, Indian-owned companies like NANF and their suppliers. NANF prioritizes sourcing ingredients from Native producers. That should keep money in the community instead of allowing those profits to accrue elsewhere.

Currently, only 17% of the buffalo in Tanka Bars comes from Native suppliers, but when companies like NANF put Native operators first, it creates a dynamic opportunity for local growth in Indian Country. The more we see these types of partnerships develop, the more we begin to revitalize our community economies, keep food dollars flowing in-community, and preserve the rich cultural heritage that surrounds each Tribes' diversity of traditional foods.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Indigenous Peoples Day Event: Save the Date!

On this upcoming Indigenous Peoples Day (Monday, October 13th), the Initiative is proud to be co-sponsoring a roundtable discussion on the role of indigenous communities in feeding America and fighting hunger. During the discussion, we will be reflecting on the rich and diverse histories of the agricultural and food production systems of Tribal communities. As we move from the past into a discussion of the present, we will be celebrating the innovative ways Tribal communities are engaging in food production today. We are fortunate to have special guests from the Choctaw Nation, who are active innovators in this area, to share their work and further our discussion as we conclude the session with a look forward into the future, considering the many ways Tribal producers will continue to play a pivotal role in the space of food and hunger.

The Initiative and our partners at the University of Arkansas School of Law, the College of Agricultural, Food & Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, Farm Journal Foundation, and HungerU, are pleased to announce the following special guest speakers will be with us to begin the day's discussion:

Dean Stacy Leeds, University of Arkansas School of Law (Cherokee) Dean Mike Vayda, University of Arkansas, Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences 
Margie Alsbrook, Editor, Farm Journal 
Janie Hipp, Director, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (Chickasaw) and Visiting Professor of Law, University of Arkansas School of Law 
Shannon McDaniel, Executive Director Tribal Management, Choctaw Nation Sara-Jane Smallwood, Choctaw Nation Tribal Policy, Director of Public Policy and Promise Zone Coordinator for the Choctaw Nation
Hillary Renick, J.D., LLM Candidate, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians Stephany Paige-Parker, Associate Research Professor and Chickasaw Nation Outcomes Coordinator, Deputy of Nutritional Sciences, Oklahoma State University

We will also be joined by student representatives of the Native American Law Students Association, the Native American Student Association, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. 

The event will run from 9:30-11:30AM CST, and it will take place on our home campus at the University of Arkansas, UA Union Rooms 508-511. All are welcome! If a trip to Fayetteville isn't in your immediate future, don't worry: we will be recapping the event afterwards here on our blog.