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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 

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