Farm to School in Native Communities

Teaching the future from the past

From Grand Portage, Minn., on the Canadian border to Navajo Nation, and Molokai, Hawaii, to New York City, Native peoples of North America have been celebrating our connection to land, food and community for generations.

Working with Native partners, the National Farm to School Network is exploring the unique opportunities for and challenges of expanding and sustaining farm to school in Native communities across the country. From developing school menus that include traditional foods like blue corn and bison to working with Native producers, planting heritage orchards, and connecting classroom education with tribal seed banks, together we are breaking down barriers and reinvigorating traditional foodways.

A timeline of our work with Native communities across the country to support the expansion of farm to school activities as a strategy for advancing food sovereignty:

2014-2015 Learning Cohort: NFSN convened a cohort of 15 Native communities from across the U.S. to advance farm to school and increase Native representation within the movement.

2015 Innovation Fund: Development of resources from Native practitioners and allies to support farm to school program innovation in Native communities.

2017-2018 Seed Change Cohort: Capacity building project to expand farm to school activities in Native communities as a strategy to leverage community-wide initiatives towards building food security and food sovereignty.

2018: NFSN created a Native Communities Leadership Council to guide and shape NFSN’s Native communities work.

2019: NFSN selected Intertribal Agriculture Council as National Partner of the Year, integrating the organization into NFSN-led events and providing a youth intern to strengthen Native voice in communications content.

2019: Communications campaign to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, increasing representation of Native practitioners and uplifting promising practices through digital storytelling.

2019-2020: Launched Native communities practitioner working groups to provide peer-to-peer learning opportunities on core topics.

Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School

From 2017-2019, National Farm to School Network's Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School project aimed to expand farm to school activities (procurement of local and traditional foods, school gardens, and food and agriculture education) in Native communities as a strategy to leverage community-wide initiatives towards building food security and food sovereignty and towards revitalizing use of traditional foods. Five Native schools were awarded mini-grants to expand and promote farm to school in their communities. Here’s a snapshot of the activities they working on:

Hardin School District 17H&1Crow Reservation: Crow Nation (Montana)
Partnered with local entities and individuals to empower students in learning about traditional foods, preparation, storage and ceremony. Created a native orchard, featuring a variety of native berries, including buffalo berries, june berries and chokecherries

Hydaburg City SchoolHydaburg, Prince of Wales Island: Haida Nation (Alaska)
Connected students with locally grown and traditional foods (such as rutabagas, parsnips and the Haida potato) by expanding the existing school garden to include a greenhouse. In May, students celebrated Haida Day by giving Elders a tour of the new greenhouse and learning about the village’s old garden site.  

Indian Township SchoolIndian Township Reservation: Passamaquoddy Tribe (Maine)
Engaged students in traditional growing practices by reviving an existing greenhouse and school garden. Students caught fish to be used as garden fertilizer, and learned planting techniques like the Three Sisters. Food grown in the garden supplemented the school lunch program, summer food service and elderly food site.

Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School PilotKaua`i Island: Native Hawaiians (Hawaii)
Supported an existing three-year pilot project to create a culturally relevant farm to school program at two Kaua`i schools. On Kaua`i, where 90 percent of food is imported, Mala`ai Kula is helping students build a healthier relationship with traditional food systems through school gardens and locally-grown foods in school meals.

Warm Springs K8 AcademyWarm Springs Reservation: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon)
Helped students make connections about where food comes from and how it relates to their cultural heritage by planting a school garden and promoting a healthy snacks program. The garden is also used for science and nutrition education.

Learn more about these projects and their impacts on our blog.

Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School was made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.