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MHA Chairman Fox at TomatoWorld (Native Business Magazine)

MHA Nation Chairman Mark N. Fox is spearheading a food sovereignty initiative on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, using compressed natural gas from its oil wells to power greenhouses and a sustainable food system and economy.

This week a delegation from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara (MHA) Nation traveled to the Netherlands to meet with the Dutch Ministry and operators of the most innovative agricultural technology in the world. The trip is part of Chairman Mark N. Fox’s food sovereignty initiative to empower the Tribe to produce its own food. The MHA Nation aims to convert compressed natural gas from the numerous oil wells on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota to power sustainable greenhouses, modeled after the cutting-edge solutions forged in the Netherlands.

“Our focus has been non-renewable energy resources, like oil,” said Chairman Fox. “We can’t be that short-sighted. It would be a tragic mistake to not recommit and invest our resources in renewable energy.”

Chairman Fox’s administration is dedicated to the preservation of the Tribe’s resources, developing a strategic science plan to protect Tribal land, water and air quality. Chairman Fox and the MHA delegation met with greenhouse agriculturalists in the Netherlands, with stops in Amsterdam, Naaldwijk, Maasdijk, The Hague and Reusel to reap the most information and knowledge transfer within a short amount of time. The trip included meeting with key officials at the headquarters of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in The Hague.

Davis Strategy Group helped to coordinate and facilitate the two-day agenda for the MHA Nation in the Netherlands.“We believe this was the first time ever that the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality has met with a Tribal delegation. The meeting took place at The Hague, the political capital of the Netherlands. Meeting with the Dutch Ministry is a testament to how important the MHA Nation’s food sovereignty initiative is,” said Gary Davis (Cherokee Nation), CEO of Davis Strategy Group and Publisher of Native Business Magazine.

MHA Delegation at the Dutch Ministry (Native Business Magazine)

The Tribal delegation additionally toured food production facilities and commercial greenhouses, including the World Horti Center, which provides a permanent exhibition hall for innovative companies in the greenhouse industry.

“I’m very excited about the greenhouses, and hope they can help our Tribe in more ways than just monetary,” said Anthony Folden, Chairman Fox’s renewable energy consultant, who plays a significant part in the food sovereignty development team. “Being able to grow our own food with green technology so we can move away from oil is something I’m very excited about.”

Gary and Carmen Davis, as the publishers of Native Business Magazine, additionally accompanied the delegation to the Netherlands to cover the trip and the MHA Nation’s food sovereignty initiative for a story in the June “agriculture” issue of Native Business Magazine. Chairman Fox will be featured on the cover.

Food sovereignty discussions will also take center stage at the Native Business Summit, May 13-15, 2019, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Native Business Magazine filmed the MHA Nation delegation’s trip to the Netherlands, and will premiere a short film of the delegation’s activities at the Native Business Summit on May 14th. Chairman Fox will participate in a panel discussion that outlines the key takeaways from the trip to the Netherlands.

MHA Chairman Fox and Gary Davis at the Van Den Borne Aardappelen Potato Farm (Frank Bosvelt for Native Business Magazine)

Precision Farming, Drone Monitoring & Innovative Technologies

The Netherlands has asserted itself as an agricultural powerhouse. The small country is the second largest global exporter of food by dollar value after the U.S. — and the country is sharing its methodologies with the MHA Nation.

At Van Den Borne Aardappelen Potato Farm near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, the delegation learned how drones assess the health of plants and measure soil chemistry, including water and nutrient content.

“The delegation learned about the use of drones to measure soil integrity and the application of precision farming in order to increase efficiencies, minimize waste and maximize yield,” said Gary Davis.

Carmen Davis (Makah Tribe), Publisher and Executive Director of Native Business Magazine, added: “The Dutch are the world’s top exporter of potatoes, and we now fully understand why. The passion we witnessed during Jacob Van Den Borne’s presentation to the delegation was mixed with science, agriculture, innovation and technology, but it was clear that what drives him is his love for farming and knowledge from his grandfather that he has proudly evolved.”

The Dutch also lead the tomato industry in yield, producing more tomatoes per square mile than anywhere else in the world. The MHA Nation delegation visited Tomatoworld, home to 80 different tomato varieties. Meanwhile at Gebroeders E&W Valstar, they observed where nearly 1.5 million kilos of peppers are harvested annually.

MHA Chairman Fox and MHA Tribal Councilman Cory Spotted Bear outside of TomatoWorld (Frank Bosvelt for Native Business Magazine)

In addition to expanding its knowledge of greenhouse technology, the MHA Nation learned about the remarkable ways the Netherlands achieves efficient and safe food processing and distribution.

“At Greenpack in Maasdijk, one of the biggest packaging and distribution centers for vegetables and fruits in West-Europe, food arrives as raw product on one side of the warehouse; migrates its way through packaging, assembly and a tracking system; and literally gets loaded into boxes then onto trucks and out to grocery stores on the other side of the warehouse,” explained Gary Davis. “The sophistication is amazing. Distribution is a huge piece of this whole equation.”

While leaders in efficiency, the Dutch strike a balance between technology and human involvement.

“A Dutch farmer told us: You can’t be a farmer unless your hands get dirty. All the technology and innovation mean nothing without a farmer touching the soil,” Gary Davis noted.  

That perspective is culturally aligned with the MHA Nation. The Tribes’ food sovereignty initiative marks a return to the Tribes’ traditionally agricultural way of life. The project will create numerous jobs for residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation, and the move toward sustainable agriculture will help safeguard the Nation against the impacts of climate change.

“We don’t want to wait for cataclysmic events,” said Chairman Fox. “We are working toward renewable energy food production to prevent future starvation.”

The MHA Nation’s successful pursuit to create a bridge to global opportunity and knowledge share with the Netherlands is historic, particularly in light of formerly contentious relationships between Indian Country and the Dutch. For instance, New York’s financial district, Wall Street, is named after a wall built by early Dutch settlers in Manhattan to keep American Indians out. Centuries later, the MHA Nation is demonstrating the power of a positive government-to-government relationship with the Netherlands.

Chairman Fox anticipates the MHA Nation’s food sovereignty project, inspired by the agricultural giant, the Netherlands, will inspire other Tribes to drive innovative solutions to feeding its own people, while creating self-reliant and sustainable Tribal economies.

“I strongly believe we will see projects like this all over Indian Country,” said Chairman Fox of his Tribes’ renewable energy and food sovereignty initiative. “This plan will allow our people to become providers.”

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