Native Farm-to-School Programs Boost Tribal Economies

Regaining control of indigenous food systems strengthens Native economies. It creates business opportunities that integrate culture. Beyond building wealth for community members, indigenous food reclamation revives Native health.

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is paving the way for young indigenous peoples to have access to farm-fresh foods through farm-to-school programs, while simultaneously cultivating informed Native youth who may feel inspired to work in the agriculture or food industry down the road. The nonprofit recently published a comprehensive manual for planning and implementing farm-to-school programs in Native American communities: the Native Farm-to-School Resource Guide. The curriculum advocates for experiential learn­ing activities that strengthen the connection between students, farmers and the community.

A First Nations’ press release states that, increasingly, Native farm-to-school programs have become an important way to introduce traditional foods and practices into curriculum, as well as to promote Native health, self-reliance and sustainability. Farm-to-school is the common phrase for programs and activities designed to incorporate local foods into school systems to better educate students about nutri­tion, agriculture and culinary arts. These programs typically include hands-on, experiential learn­ing activities that strengthen the connection between students, farmers and the community.

Similarly, Native farm-to-school programs introduce traditional, locally-produced foods into school systems to improve student nutrition and increase knowledge of traditional foods, languages and ceremonies. Additionally, Native farm-to-school programs can boost tribal economies, as many of these locally-produced food items can be purchased and utilized in school lunch programs.

The Native Farm-to-School Resource Guide was developed by identifying existing Native and non-Native farm-to-school programs and analyzing best practices, lessons learned, biggest challenges and case study examples of programs that achieved high-level impact and long-term sustainability. The result is a process guide for planning Native farm-to-school programs as well as a guide for tribal officials to engage their leadership and create buy-in for the farm-to-school process.

“The Native Farm-to-School Resource Guide is a necessary resource for communities striving to educate youth and community members on healthy, traditional agricultural practices,” said A-dae Romero-Briones, First Nations’ Director of Programs for Native Agriculture and Food Systems. “Creating a community-driven food system that engages both youth and elders increases tribal agricultural sovereignty. These efforts lead to increases in overall community health through improved knowledge and awareness of agriculture, increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the hands-on learning that supports physical well-being.”

This guide was produced under First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI), which began in 2002 to support Native communities building economic development through sustainable food systems that improve health and nutrition, strengthen food security, create food-related businesses and increase control of Native agriculture and food systems. In particular, the guide was an outgrowth of a grant First Nations received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach aimed at training Native farmers and ranchers to increase their successful participation in USDA programs and build their capacity to manage agriculture and food-system operations. One of the outcomes included creating a Native farm-to-school development training as a supplemental effort to engage more Native communities in the farm-to-school movement.