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Native F2S Champions: Indian Township School

NFSN Staff Monday, November 18, 2019
By Lea Zeise, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Eastern Region


Photo Credit: Indian Township School
This blog is part of a series of profiles of Native Farm to School Champions, organized and collated by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). IAC is NFSN's 2019 National Partner of the Year, and we are excited to collaborate with IAC on this storytelling project to celebrate farm to school activities happening across Indian Country. These Champion profiles were written and submitted by IAC's Regional Technical Assistance Specialists, and these programs will be recognized for the farm to school leadership at the 2019 IAC Annual Meeting. Learn more about the IAC at www.indianag.org.

Indian Township School sits along the shores of Long Lake in Northern Maine in the small, tight-knit community of the Passamaquoddy Indian Township Reservation. The school enrollment fluctuates depending on the hunting and fishing seasons, between 125 and 145 students in Pre-K to 8th grade. Their farm to school program started three years ago when the School Librarian, Donna Meader-York, approached the Special Education Teacher in Junior High, Brian Giles, to revive the defunct greenhouse on the school grounds and expand the small garden. Teaming up together, Donna and Brian flexed their resourcefulness muscle and reached out to several organizations, including the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). 

Brian attended the very next NFSN Conference where he was especially inspired by a presentation from Intertribal Agriculture Council’s Youth Programs Coordinator, Kelsey Ducheneaux. Brian saw clearly the connection between the issues faced in Native American communities, including Indian Township, and the opportunity to address those issues by empowering the youth to grow and cook their traditional foods. “I realized we’re all fighting the same fight and I felt even more invigorated to help overcome those difficulties,” said Brian, and his commitment soon paid off. Indian Township School received the Seed Change in Native Communities mini-grant and got to work bringing the greenhouse back into working order and building raised beds to increase the garden. They also started Passamaquoddy O.G.’s (Original Gardeners) club to bring a cool factor to the youth participating.

Today the Indian Township School features a functional greenhouse, raised-bed garden, a wild rice pond, and a fruit and nut orchard planted by the students through partnership with ReTreeUS. The school has partnered with the food pantry, offering space in the greenhouse to start seedlings that grow to provide food for dozens of families throughout the harvest season. Students in the afterschool program help to plant the seedlings in the spring and return in the fall to gather and prepare the harvest in cooking classes. They also embark on foraging field trips for chokecherries and return to the school to preserve them into traditional dried leather. In their time spent together, the staff help youth focus on the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health.

When the school opens the doors for community feasts, produce from the garden is served alongside harvested berries, moose and venison for all to enjoy. Families file past the signage in the cafeteria featuring Passamaquoddy and English to share a traditional meal together. These community feasts are just one aspect of their success though – Brian and Donna also created a more secure and culturally-relevant food system, set an example of partnership to achieve their goals, and most importantly, empowered the next generation.

Learn more about Indian Township School here: http://www.indiantownshipschool.org/

Native F2S Champions: Newcomb High School

NFSN Staff Wednesday, November 13, 2019
By Matthew Denetclaw, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Navajo Region


Photo Credit: Newcomb High School 
This blog is part of a series of profiles of Native Farm to School Champions, organized and collated by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). IAC is NFSN's 2019 National Partner of the Year, and we are excited to collaborate with IAC on this storytelling project to celebrate farm to school activities happening across Indian Country. These Champion profiles were written and submitted by IAC's Regional Technical Assistance Specialists, and these programs will be recognized for the farm to school leadership at the 2019 IAC Annual Meeting. Learn more about the IAC at www.indianag.org.

Many miles from the nearest grocery store lies the community of Newcomb, New Mexico. Located on the Navajo Reservation, Newcomb High School is an institution full of opportunity. One unique individual providing the opportunity for students to see a future in locally grown food initiatives is agriculture instructor Augusta Ahlm.

Ms. Ahlm has been teaching at Newcomb High School for two years. She has taken the immediate initiative to find ways to revive the agriculture program which now makes an impact beyond campus borders. After observing little to no infrastructure in place for food production or available funding within the school district, she managed to pursue and receive many in-kind donations from producers near and far to create their current agriculture science center.

It all began by coordinating labor from the chapter house summer student work program, who used recycled materials to build animal housing facilities and box gardens with a hoop house for a controlled growing environment. In addition to growing produce, Ms. Ahlm later acquired several head of sheep and numerous chickens for animal protein production. Every year, the Newcomb High School agriculture program harvests a sheep using the traditional Navajo method to offer a meal for the community in addition to offering fresh vegetables annually. Students and community members alike enjoy and participate in the cooking demonstrations.

The local senior center also benefits by receiving eggs produced by the chickens. Recently, they have installed an aquaponics systems producing a successful harvest of herbs, and soon will be looking forward to adding radish sprouts and wheatgrass. They also help mitigate food waste by collecting cafeteria veggie scraps to add into their compost heap. Ms. Ahlm now looks forward to working with IAC Navajo Region to find the available resources through the National Farm to School Network to help take her program to the next level.

Learn more about Newcomb High School here: https://www.newcombhigh.org/

Reflections from the Road: Conference on Native American Nutrition

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 09, 2019
By Mackenize Martinez, Partnership Communications Intern

As the Intertribal Agriculture Council Partnership Communications Intern working with National Farm to School Network, I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at the Fourth Annual Conference on Native American Nutrition in Mystic Lake, Minnesota. This is the only conference series in the world devoted to the food and nutrition of Indigenous Peoples. It brings together tribal officials, researchers, practitioners, funders and others to discuss the current state of Indigenous and academic scientific knowledge about Native nutrition, dietary health, and food science, and identify new areas of work. My role in helping co-lead a break out session titled “Farm to School as a Strategy for Advancing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities” with Alena Paisano, NFSN Program Manager,  was certainly a profound learning and networking experience. 

Our session focused on the ways that farm to school can be used as a strategy to decolonize our food system and take back our food sovereignty in Native communities. A key portion of our presentation also shared about the partnership between the National Farm to School Network and the Intertribal Agriculture Council that is helping to advance this work. In addition, NFSN’s recent Seed Change in Native Communities project was also discussed and these successes - which ranged all across Indian Country - were highlighted for audiences to view. In particular, we engaged with audience members from the Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School Pilot who participated in Seed Change to support an existing three-year pilot project to create a culturally relevant farm to school program at two Kaua`i schools. On Kaua`i, where 90 percent of food is imported, Mala`ai Kula helped students build a healthier relationship with traditional food systems through school gardens and locally-grown foods in school meals. I enjoyed seeing everyone come together in this space and share their farm to school experiences and knowledge.


Culturally relevant meals served at Kaua`i schools as part of the Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School Pilot. 
As a representative on the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance, the national executive board for the Intertribal Agriculture Youth Network, I was very much able to take a first-hand look into the concept of farm to school as a strategy for advancing food sovereignty in Native communities. In order to see how this national partnership is contributing to success in Native communities, it was imperative for me to establish a personal connection and to pinpoint how my passions align in this particular space. Naturally, as I presented to the breakout session, I expressed that my personal connection with farm to school stems from involvement in Intertribal Agriculture Council youth programming. These particular programs are so vital to Native youth because of the emphasis that is placed on developing qualities of leadership, building knowledge of traditional agricultural practices, and being equipped with the skills to take initiative for change back to our communities. While I attended the gathering to help educate others on this, I unequivocally gained a better understanding of how interconnected the roles of National Farm to School Network and Intertribal Agriculture Council are in serving youth through the many forms that farm to school takes. While I have been exposed to the idea of food sovereignty for a few years now, attending this conference gave me a refreshed look into the current efforts of this movement and how essential it is that traditional foods are implemented in school systems serving Native populations. The breakout session that Alena and I led was an effective way to get that particular conversation started.

In addition to helping facilitate our farm to school presentation, I experienced this conference as a first-time attendee. I am still in awe of the energy that this diverse group of individuals carried as we sat in general sessions. Some of my favorite moments from this conference included the keynote speech from Peggy Flanagan, Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota. Hearing from one of the highest-ranking Native American women in history was certainly empowering and hopeful. Lieutenant Governor Flanagan spoke of firsthand childhood experiences that included being a recipient of commodity foods and understanding the reality that individuals in these types of nutrition assistance programs face. Knowing that Native communities have her support in moving forward in the reach for food sovereignty is certainly exciting and opens an even wider expanse of opportunities for youth in farm to school.

In addition, through the keynote presentation of Sean Sherman, founder of The Sioux Chef, I learned a lot about the dynamics of Indigenous food systems and actions being taken to revitalize traditional diets on a larger scale. Farm to school is an approach that can help make this type of food revitalization more accessible to Native children because of the direct role that it plays in a child’s wellbeing and everyday life. Schools are institutions that serve as the foundation of a child’s knowledge, and that knowledge shouldn’t stop in the classroom. It should be carried into the cafeteria, as well. Mr. Sherman’s keynote presentation reminded us that in order to take back our food systems and revitalize those traditional diets, we first need to understand them. Farm to school is a way to bridge that gap between the classroom to the cafeteria and help establish traditional knowledge of food and nutrition at earlier ages. In addition, as a tribal member not currently residing on ancestral land, I enjoyed the discussions on access to traditional foods as an urban Native.

As an intern and someone pursuing post-secondary education in the agricultural science field, this conference was a definite experience of growth in knowledge, character, and leadership. I am looking forward to using this event as a milestone to look back on as my time working between the National Farm to School Network and Intertribal Agriculture Council Partnership continues. 

Intertribal Agriculture Council Selected As 2019 NFSN National Partner of the Year

NFSN Staff Thursday, January 17, 2019
As a national organization uniquely situated at the intersection of numerous sectors and communities, networking and partnership building are at the core of the National Farm to School Network’s efforts. Partnerships are integral to our success, and are essential to the growth and long-term sustainability of the farm to school movement. That’s why our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan includes a key goal to facilitate expanded engagement in farm to school through new and diverse partnerships and promotion, including the designation of a “National Partner of the Year.” Through intentional programmatic collaboration, resource sharing and cross-promotion, we aim to both educate our members about the work of national partners, and increase knowledge of farm to school and our organization in diverse sectors. 

This year, we are pleased to announce the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) as our 2019 National Partner of the Year. The IAC is a non-profit, Tribal membership organization, serving all tribal producers and communities across the country, established in 1987 to pursue and promote conservation, development and use of Indian agricultural resources for the betterment of Indian communities. The IAC is recognized as the most respected voice within the Indian community and government circles on agricultural policies and programs in Indian Country, and it conducts a wide range of programs designed to further the goal of improving Indian Agriculture, land management, cultural food systems, and local and international marketing. 

A key area of the IAC’s programmatic focuses is cultivating Native youth leaders. Youth leadership development opportunities provided by the IAC - including local, regional and national events - expose Native youth to land conservation and stewardship, traditional food preparation and preservation, agricultural production planning, entrepreneurial business ventures in food and agriculture, and resource management as a community development tool. While Native youth have always been a part of the IAC, efforts to focus on youth programming continue to formalize, and at the 2017 IAC Membership Meeting, the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance (NYFSA) was formed. 

National Farm to School Network has partnered with Native communities since early 2014, with an aim to gain a deeper understanding of the unique food access challenges Native communities face and identify and pursue viable solutions to overcome barriers to implementing farm to school. In partnership with numerous tribal communities and organizations, we’ve been learning that with a community-based and multi-generational framework, farm to school can be a nexus of economic development, food sovereignty, health and nutrition, and cultural revitalization. We’re excited to further this work in our year-long partnership with the IAC. Together, we’ll be exploring programmatic and policy advocacy collaborations, attending each other’s trainings and events, supporting youth leadership development, sharing out key learnings and resources, and promoting ways for our members to get involved in this work. 

Learn more about the Intertribal Agriculture Council on their website or social media sites: 

Stay tuned for opportunities to learn more about the IAC and dig into this partnership with us throughout 2019!

A Garden Story, The Passamaquoddy Way

NFSN Staff Tuesday, November 13, 2018

By Alena Paisano, Program Manager, National Farm to School Network

National Farm to School Network’s Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School project is working with on-the-ground partners to expand and sustain farm to school activities in Native communities across the nation. In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, here’s a story from one Seed Change school about how farm to school activities are benefiting Native youth and their communities. 

“Our success started with a behavioral intervention,” says Brian Giles, Special Education Teacher at Indian Township School in the Passamaquoddy Indian Township Reservation, Maine. “I will tell you a story, which is the Passamaquoddy way. There is a student. I will call him Kinap. Kinap means strong and brave in Passamaquoddy and although that is not his name I feel it suits him. 

This student faces multiple hardships at home. His father is afflicted with an illness out of his control, his mother not present in the picture for reasons unknown to me. He walked around school every day with his hood up and his back slouched. He would not high five, handshake or utter good morning to anyone. I knew right away that I had to get him on board. As we all know, food is life, and gardens are good therapy. This student agreed to be part of the garden club at school and showed up religiously for a few weeks. He helped weed and prepare the garden. I elected him the leader of our club since the attendance was low and he was the most active member of our group. 

Before I knew it, he was leading the younger children groups, and when the FoodCorps national team visited, I elected to have him lead our group tour. They were blown away. His hood came down, and he was excited about garden club. The enthusiasm spread through his friends. I elected to have the students do the daily watering, and he and his peers begged me each morning for the keys to the greenhouse to water our beloved seedlings. We held a community show-off night, and the students led their families through the greenhouse and gardens to see what they had grown. We were met with ‘Hey tus or qoss (son or daughter), I didn’t know you were doing this. I am so proud of you.’ 

We are trying to make gardening and food sovereignty cool. Our afterschool garden program is called Passamaquoddy OG (Original Gardeners). I am working with tribal members to integrate traditional tribal music, hip hop, and traditional dance to create a culture of cool. We are working on t-shirt and hoodie designs that integrate the medicine wheel and tribal colors and language to reward our students for their hard work and to give them a badge of honor. Our OG membership and enthusiasm continues to rise and I am met daily with ‘When are we going to garden Mr. Giles.’ My answer will always be, toke (now).”

From garden clubs celebrating tribal culture and school menus serving up traditional foods, to planting heritage orchards and connecting classroom education with traditional teachings, farm to school activities in Native communities are helping break down barriers and reinvigorating traditional food ways one ear of corn (or salmon, chokecherry, squash, taro) at a time.

Learn more about our Seed Change in Native Communities project here: www.farmtoschool.org/nativecommunities 

Find resources for growing farm to school activities in Native communities in our Resource Library by searching the “Native Communities” tag: www.farmtoschool.org/resources 

Food is Culture and Celebration!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 06, 2017

By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

When I think about food, especially during the holiday season, I think about my traditions with family and friends. From holidays to birthdays and reunions, food has always been a central part of my celebration of life events. In the recently published New York Times Op-ed titled Feeling Conflicted on Thanksgiving Viet Thanh Nguyen explains, “DNA, in any case, tells us little about culture. Food tells us more.“ Farm to school is as much about food, culture, and celebration as it is about education, health and access.

Schools and early care settings across all 50 states, D.C., the U.S. Territories, and Native communities are using farm to school as an approach to deepen their understanding of food as a tool for cultural connection and celebration. At Warm Spring K-8 Academy on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, there is urgency to connecting school and community culture to food traditions.  District Superintendent Ken Parnell explains:

You can’t just focus on math and literacy, because the rate of diabetes in our community is heartbreaking. Male life expectancy is 38 years. Many adults die from complications from diabetes. You can’t just say that’s a health concern and leave that in the community (outside of the school), because it affects our students. In my first year, eleven students lost parents. We have a responsibility to start working with students at a young age around nutrition.

The school district has framed farm to school as an opportunity to connect students to local, healthy, and traditional foods, such as root vegetables and salmon.  As the school became more engaged with these traditional foods in the cafeteria, they also realized there were opportunities to extend farm to school activities to families. For example, the school district’s family engagement nights, which turnout up to 1,000 students and family members, provided an exciting opportunity to celebrate healthy, traditional foods on a wider scale. After reflecting of how to better incorporate traditions into family nights, the district planned a powwow where everyone participated in dancing and enjoyed traditional food. Ken added, “It would have been much easier from the (school) kitchen (to work alone), but we worked with tribal partners to prepare traditional foods.”  

Every community has different food and cultural traditions – and that’s worth celebrating! Here are several additional snapshots of how farm to school celebrates traditions, relationships, and an overall connection to community-based food:

- Students in Arkansas are celebrating the holiday season and learning about each other cultures with a recipe swap. One student shared a family recipe dating back to 1911!

- In preparation for the upcoming holiday season, middle school students in rural Iowa learned about table settings, polite dinner conversation, and menu selection. To conclude their class, they enjoyed a Thanksgiving lunch together where they could put all they learned into practice.

- For about 20 Phoenix School culinary students, preparations to feed a Thanksgiving feast to 200 students and staff would not be complete without a trip to the school’s garden. Picking herbs from the garden was among the tasks needed to be finished before Tuesday’s big event.

Magic is Growing in Maine

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 21, 2017


By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern 

Less than ten miles from the US-Canada boarder in far eastern Maine, sits the Indian Township school garden and greenhouse. Against the odds of the region’s short growing season, coupled with torrential rains this past spring, and followed by a drought in late summer, magic is growing. Donna Meader-York, the school’s librarian and farm to school champion, shared that this year’s squash harvest from their Three Sisters Garden has been a point of pride for all involved. Additionally, Donna was excited to tell us that the bountiful squash harvest has had an unexpected but positive impact. “Weeds and insects are down with tons of bees. Tons of bees buzzing around the squash blossoms!”

The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops - winter squash, maize (corn), and runner beans - of several Native American groups in North America. Traditionally, the Three Sisters are planted together as companion crops. As the plants grow, they support and benefit from each other. The maize grows tall which gives the beans a structure to climb, and the squash vines out along the ground which blocks weeds and holds moisture in the soil. All the while, the beans add nitrogen into the soil, which the corn and squash use to grow. Delicious cooperation! 

During the summer months, the produce from the Three Sisters Garden at Indian Township was donated to a local food pantry. Now that school is in session, each school garden harvest heads to the school kitchen. Donna told us that the spring rains delayed their corn and bean plantings, and that there is not much of a harvest from those crops this season. “There is a lot we learned with this garden, and we hope to get it right next growing season. Meanwhile, this winter, we are going to try to grow lettuce and spinach for our school salad bar in our newly repaired greenhouse!” The National Farm to School Network sees that the health of the soil, students, and entire community is growing in Indian Township, and we think that is pretty magical. 


Indian Township School is the recipient of a National Farm to School Network Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School mini-grant. Seed Change in Native Communities is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.


Seed Change is Sprouting in Native Communities

NFSN Staff Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Launched in April 2017, the National Farm to School Network's Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School project aims to expand farm to school activities in Native communities and leverage community-wide initiatives towards building food security and food sovereignty and revitalizing use of traditional foods. Five Native schools have been awarded Seed Change mini-grants to expand and promote farm to school in their communities in 2017. Here are brief updates about what the school have been working on:

Hardin School District 17H&1 – Crow Reservation: Crow Nation (Montana): From bringing local food into the cafeteria with a Harvest of the Month program, to a farmer visiting classrooms to teach students about local grains, farm to school is taking root in the Hardin School District. Work is being done to prep an unused school field for transformation into an orchard and outdoor learning space with native shrubs, berries bushes, and fruit trees. Students are sure to be harvesting farm to school goodness for years to come! 

Hydaburg City School – Hydaburg, Prince of Wales Island: Haida Nation (Alaska): The school's new garden and greenhouse have been running for less than a year, and already student-grown raspberries and sugar snap peas are being incorporated into the school's lunch program. YUM!

Indian Township School – Indian Township Reservation: Passamaquoddy Tribe (Maine): This farm to school team is led by the school's librarian and after school coordinator. Following an ample harvest of squash from their new three sister's garden this summer, they're already looking forward to planning next season's garden. 

Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School Pilot – Kaua`i Island: Native Hawaiians (Hawaii): This farm to school pilot program on the island of Kaua'i aims to connect students to culturally relevant foods, such as taro and sweet potatoes, while also encouraging farmers to grow more of these foods to better align with a native diet. Read more about Mala`ai Kula's commitment to serve culturally relevant foods here

Warm Springs K8 Academy – Warm Springs Reservation: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon): Warm Springs K8 Academy is creating a community-wide culture of wellness by engage students and their families in farm to school activities. In June, the school year's final family night, attended by over 1,000 students and family members, was a Powwow and dinner that served traditional and fresh foods including salmon and root vegetables. 

Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

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