Twin Cities Native Nonprofit Responds to Food Insecurity by Tripling Acreage

Dream of Wild Health, a Native-led nonprofit, recently purchased an additional 20 acres of farmland in response to participant inquiries regarding food insecurity amid the current global pandemic. (Courtesy Dream of Wild Health / Facebook)

Dream of Wild Health — a nonprofit catalyst for Native American youth gardening, cooking and culture that doubles as a job and skills incubator — is filling a void in a world ravaged by COVID-19. Food insecurity is part of that collateral.

Participants in Dream of Wild Health observed a fundamental need in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Native American community it serves. That need was access to food. 

So the Native-led nonprofit acted quickly — purchasing an additional 20 acres of farmland for $240,000. The new farmland is located on the same street as their existing farm. 

The Native community in the Twin Cities area is reeling from the economic and social impact of COVID-19 — exacerbated by high rates of poverty and health disparities.

“We’re already seeing food insecurities,” Executive Director Neely Snyder told MPR News. “I can just imagine … some time in the future with businesses closing and all the schools closing, that the need for food access in our community is really going to increase, and so now we are looking at this as an urgent need for our community to start growing sooner rather than later.”

The organization is working to expand food access immediately. More crops will not only provide essential food for community members. It will deliver healthy, Indigenous foods, contributing to the revitalization of Native culture and foodways. 

The newly purchased 20 acres are currently a conventionally-managed field of corn. Dream of Wild Health aims to turn it into a thriving ecosystem that not only supplies food to people but supports insects, plants and animals as well.

“The vision for this land is to transition a barren, monoculture field into a rich, bio-diverse community of plant relatives. There will be tree rows separating the growing space for annual plantings,” said Seed Keeper and Farm Manager Jessika Greendeer. “This will provide habitats for our bird and insect relatives, while protecting our heirloom seeds from cross-pollination.”

Dream of Wild Health, one of the longest-serving Native-led nonprofits in the Twin Cities, already had a 10-acre farm, an Indigenous fruit orchard, and a pollinator meadow. This additional 20 acres in Hugo, Minnesota, will produce even more culturally relevant food, and create greater, future opportunity for cultural programming for Native youth and families. (Teaching has pivoted to online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.) 

Snyder said, “Our Elder, Ernie Whiteman, would often say at Dream of Wild Health we grow seeds and leaders. This purchase allows us to honor his memory and bring that vision to life by serving even more youth and stewarding our seed collection for the next generation. Indigenous food sovereignty has never been more important.”

Snyder told TwinCities.com that the nonprofit distributed 7.5 tons of vegetables last year, and she expects to distribute much more this year.

“We have been blown away by the response from our generous funders, and are so grateful for the support. We now have a lot of work to do,” Snyder said. The organization is now seeking additional funding to begin to realize their vision for the new site. They need resources to amend the soil, plant hundreds of trees, install irrigation, and begin to lay a foundation for year-round growing through season extension infrastructure such as hoop houses and greenhouses.

Food grown at the farm will be distributed through the organization’s youth programs, at the Four Sisters Farmers Market, through its Indigenous Food Share CSA, sold wholesale to Native chefs and restaurants, and donated to food shelves. While this project will take years to manifest, Greendeer said: “We will work tirelessly to tend the land for our collective future generations.”

Amid the pandemic, Dream of Wild Health has transitioned from face-to-face teaching to a virtual space. One of the organization’s online events, the Sacred Medicines and Garden Beginnings Workshop, recently attracted 220 participants, Snyder told TwinCities.com.

For information on upcoming virtual workshops run by Dream of Wild Health, visit their Facebook page.

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