Over the past few decades, Native and non-Native people in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities area have reaped benefits from the efforts of Dream of Wild Health.
A seed-keeping cooperative, Dream of Wild Health is a 30-acre farm in Hugo, Minnesota, that serves the community through food donations and offers youth food system programs.
The organization works to create and restore an Indigenous relationship with the land and to offer access to healthy foods and lifestyles. Education is a main focus, and it also prioritizes the future of Indigenous food and people.
In 2021, the Center for Rural Affairs offered an online series of Native cooperative workshops, taught by Pamela Standing of the Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance. This series, “Models of Native Cooperative Ownership,” showcased stories from Indigenous cooperatives across the nation, focusing on Dream of Wild Health during the first session.
Restoring communities with seeds
Dream of Wild Health strives to restore health and well-being in the Native community by recovering knowledge of and access to healthy Indigenous foods, medicines, and lifestyles. One way this is done is through seed stewardship.
In March 2000, Cora Baker, a Potawatomi elder and Keeper of the Seeds living near the Wisconsin Dells, wrote to the organization expressing her gratitude for its work and expressing a desire to contribute.
With help from her great-granddaughter, Cora sent seeds for many varieties of corn, beans, and squash, plus several kinds of sunflowers, Indigenous tobacco, and plant medicines, to Dream of Wild Health before she died.
That donation began the seed collection, and today, Dream of Wild Health is stewarding seeds from across the country, and sees each seed as a gift from the ancestors. In 2019, the co-op hired its first seed regeneration team to rematriate seeds to Tribal Nations.
Jessika Greendeer, seed keeper and farm manager with Dream of Wild Health, says the act of seed rematriation involves layers of intergenerational healing, creating ripples of effects for everyone involved.
When the seed team learned that some of the seeds in their care were no longer grown locally, staff dedicated themselves to growing and sharing the harvest with those communities. This ensured the seeds will continue to be grown on the Dream of Wild Health farm, as well as in the seeds’ places of origin.
“The seeds are going home to their communities,” said Jessika. “When they come home, they awaken our spirits to the ancestral ritual of planting, singing the songs of our ancestors, and reconnecting us to our past.”
Learning from and celebrating the land
Dream of Wild Health raises fruits and vegetables and wild plants, and has a berry orchard and a 2-acre pollinator meadow. It’s also home to a greenhouse, a pole barn, and a farm house. In 2020, the cooperative purchased land, expanding the acreage from 10 acres to 30 acres.
“All of our food is raised with loving care in an organic environment,” said Neely Snyder, executive director of Dream of Wild Health. “We teach our kids to treat each other and the earth with reverence and respect. We offer prayers of thanks with tobacco before each harvest, and we believe in reciprocity, giving back to the earth with gratitude for the gifts we receive.
“The farm is a place of learning, a place of celebration, a place of belonging and community,” she said. “The farm is a model of cultural recovery put into practice, a safe place for children, a place where we cherish and protect the seeds as our ancestors. It is a place where we keep our values alive.”
The farm continues to grow and diversify. Each year, the organization serves more than 3,000 Native and non-Native people through tours, workshops, community feasts, school visits, and summer programs.
Helping today’s youth become tomorrow’s leaders
Dream of Wild Health hosts three levels of youth programs each year to empower Native youth in their individual cultural identities and deepen their connection with the earth, water, pollinators, elders, and peers.
Cora’s Kids is a four-day program for Native kids ages 8 to 12 out at the farm. Participants learn about growing and eating healthy and tasty food, culture, and language, along with traditional crafts and games.
Garden Warriors is a three-week session covering gardening, nutrition, physical activity, and Native culture and language for teens ages 13 to 18. Participants have the opportunity to cook healthy and Indigenous foods as well as work at the organization’s farmers market. Participants are paid a stipend for their work experience.
The year-round Youth Leaders group is made up of Garden Warriors who demonstrate maturity and commitment to succeeding in school. They have the opportunity to work on nutrition, health, and food justice issues in their communities. Youth also work together to become advocates and examples for their communities, as well as reconnect to a traditional relationship with their food.
Felicia Galvan, an intern with Dream of Wild Health, took part in Garden Warriors and Youth Leaders, and now works with the seed team.
“I’m grateful to have learned so much about not only culture and food, but what it means to be a Native person for myself,” she said. “During those programs, I was able to find comfort in my Indigeneity. For the longest time, I felt like I didn't know who I was, or that I wasn’t Native enough. Going to those programs were some of the biggest factors in my new-found confidence in being Native.”
Rebuilding a sovereign food system
Another Dream of Wild Health program is the Indigenous Food Network, a group of Native-led community organizations in Minneapolis that work together to rebuild a sovereign food system by identifying and leveraging organizational and community assets.
The work of the Indigenous Food Network builds on the cultural knowledge of community members and uses an intertribal and multigenerational approach. The goal is to reclaim health for future generations, recognizing that food Is medicine.
“We are creating a Native American urban model for food sovereignty,” said Neely. “The Indigenous Food Network aims to increase access and consumption of Indigenous foods in schools and programs serving Native American youth and families, and advocate for local and regional policy change to support the development of an Indigenous food system.”
Giving back to the community
In 2020, Dream of Wild Health was able to contribute to the Native community in several ways including:
- Donating 6,000 pounds of produce
- Distributing 8.25 tons of food
- Offering 38 youth the chance to participate in summer programs (a reduced number to keep the community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic).
Learn more about Dream of Wild Health and watch the webinar featuring Dream of Wild Health Executive Director Neely Synder, Seed Keeper and Farm Director Jessika Greendeer, and Felicia Galvan, an intern, at youtube.com/watch?v=j27fTC6V1HM.
This session of the webinar series is hosted by Justin Carter, senior project associate for the Center for Rural Affairs.