Aaron LaPointe, manager of Ho-Chunk Farms, with Jason Hulit (left) and Jeffery Thomas Jr. (Photo Courtesy Ho-Chunk, Inc.)
Ho-Chunk Farms made its first farmland purchase Tuesday, acquiring 231 acres of reservation land northeast of Winnebago, Nebraska, for $1.3 million from the non-Native former owners.
“This is a huge step for the long-term sustainability of Ho-Chunk Farms and the continued opportunity of purchasing Tribal lands from non-Native sellers,” said Aaron LaPointe, manager of Ho-Chunk Farms.
Just 25% of farmable land on the Winnebago Reservation is owned by the Tribe or Tribal members, LaPointe estimates in a release from Ho-Chunk, Inc.
In addition to the Ho-Chunk Farms purchase, the Winnebago Tribe is currently evaluating a purchase proposal for numerous other parcels totaling a record number of acres.
“This signals the Tribe and Tribal entities are in the business of buying land,” LaPointe said in the release.
This spring, Ho-Chunk Farms will plant an additional 5,000 acres of leased farmland on the Winnebago Reservation. The company, a subsidiary of Ho-Chunk, Inc., will also purchase farm equipment to expand its machinery line. The goal is to increase Tribal employment in farming and reduce contracted work.
Ho-Chunk Farms started in 2012. In that time, it’s changed the dynamics of reservation farming and increased agriculture land values for the Winnebago Tribe.
The Dawes Act of 1887 allowed Tribal lands to be divided and taken, resulting in a checkerboard pattern of land ownership on reservations across the United States. By the early 1900s, the Winnebago Tribe had lost ownership of about two-thirds of its northeast Nebraska reservation.
The remaining Tribal land has been held “in trust” by the federal government. Tribal farmland is leased to the public in a bid process managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Leases have historically been under fair market value.
Tribal policy allows Ho-Chunk Farms to match any bid. In recent years, this has increased Tribal land value by millions.
“Everything we do is based on sustainability,” LaPointe said. “That includes economics, the environment and traditional ways.”
This spring, Ho-Chunk Farms will plant 440 acres of USDA Certified Organic crops, including 270 newly-certified acres. The company is currently transitioning 591 acres to certified organic, an increase of 340 acres from last year.
Ho-Chunk Farms’ direct investment in the Winnebago community is facilitated by revenue from organic and commodity crops.
Ho-Chunk Farms, the Winnebago Tribe and community partners are promoting food sovereignty with a number of projects, including traditional Indian corn, raised bed vegetable gardens and a new summer farmers market in the Ho-Chunk Village.