Community Gardens and Farmers Markets Help Restore Healthy Food Traditions

How ‘accessible’ is food to you? I mean this not only in the sense of how far must you walk or drive  to get to some fresh snap peas, for instance, but also in the sense of ‘food literacy.’

When are carrots the sweetest, and why? What exactly is gravy? How exactly does one ‘dry’ a tomato? Which vegetables have the most protein? Are all calories created equal?

Do you know how or when you gained this knowledge?

Food access and food literacy has dropped significantly through the years. It is a great irony that the people of rural regions purportedly producing food are suffering the effects of inadequate access to it. Inadequate access to nutrition results in poor health, and systemically poor health undermines family and community structures.

It is a problem for all Americans, and one that is acutely felt on Nebraska’s reservations.

According to the 2013 County Health Rankings published by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, in Thurston County – home to the Omaha and Winnebago tribes – 37% of adults aged 20 and over are obese (compare to 29% statewide), and 14% are diagnosed with diabetes (compare to 8% statewide).

Currently, the Center is engaged in projects to build up food independence on the Santee Sioux and Omaha Tribe reservations. We provide hands-on training to community members in growing and marketing their own organically grown fruits and vegetables. And we help residents to start community gardens and launch farmers markets.

As healthy food access on reservations transformed over the years, much cultural knowledge around food and its production were lost. Our approach is to empower communities to achieve greater food security and find their traditional knowledge and reincorporate it.

We also see ourselves as learners in the project. Veronica Ehrenberg, our Tribal Foods Coordinator, sees herself not as a teacher, but as a connector. She sits, listens, and takes time to hear community stories. This cultural knowledge is incorporated into our garden and farmers market training curriculum.

What traditional food knowledge is in your family? How will you preserve it?

Feature photo shows Jim Hallum with KZYK 88.9 Nebraska Indian Community College Radio Station-Santee Campus and Veronica Erenberg with the Center as they announce the Santee Community Gardens Kick-Off Event. Over 35 community members came out to discuss planning their garden, selling produce and crafts at the farmers market, and enjoyed a delicious dinner made from local ingredients. | Photo by Wyatt Fraas