New ways to grow traditional Native American crops
By Minneapolis Star Tribune,Adapted by Newsela staff Sept. 15, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS — Bit by bit, the farm at Little Earth is growing.
Something else is growing, too: a new approach to food that is spreading among Native Americans across the nation. The idea is to improve the health of Indians through rediscovering ancestral foods.
Little Earth is a group of homes located in a poor part of Minneapolis. The Indians there live in the big city, far from any large patches of farmland. Yet, they are finding ways to grow traditional Native American crops. Many of those crops existed long before European settlers arrived.
Some even have a name for the new idea: the decolonized diet. Native Americans' diet changed after colonists arrived. The decolonized diet returns Indians to their traditional foods.
The Garden Projects Are Popular
Susen Fagrelius works on Little Earth’s community health projects. The return to traditional Native American food has been growing, she said. More people are realizing something: Even on a small piece of land, you can grow a lot.
That is clearly true at Little Earth. Lakota sage appears where ordinary grass once grew. Rows of Oneida cornstalks tower 6 feet in the air. Special raspberries cover a small patch.
Projects like the Little Earth farm are springing up across the country. They are taking aim at a serious problem: The poor health of many Native Americans.
Native Americans are much more likely than non-Indians to suffer from the disease diabetes. Many are seriously overweight. Both problems are often connected to what people eat.
Devon Abbott Mihesuah is an expert on Native American diet. Health problems among native people have become very serious, she said.
Familiar Foods Are Tough To Give Up
The problem has its root in history. When Indians were forced onto reservations, Mihesuah said, their diets changed. Government-supplied goods replaced healthy, natural foods.
Diabetes "didn’t start showing up until after the Civil War,” she said. “Up until that time there weren’t any pictures of (Indian) people being fat.”
There are Indians who do not want to give up familiar foods. Fry bread is popular at Indian gatherings. The fluffy, fried dough is not a traditional Indian food, Mihesuah said. She has a bumper sticker on her car with a red line crossing out the words “fry bread.” Some Indians have said she's “anti-Indian” for speaking out against fry bread, she said.
Still, the decolonized diet is spreading nationwide.
Last Link To Old-Time Plants
Seeds from hundreds of years ago are being planted. Such seeds are known as heritage seeds. Often, they are the last link to traditional plants that have almost died out.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is helping to lead the return to healthy food. Their large garden is located in Prior Lake, Minnesota.
A number of plants in their garden come from heritage seeds. The seeds are also given to other Indian communities.
Lori Watso came up with the idea for the Shakopee garden. She thinks heritage crops are the foods Native Americans are meant to eat.
Such foods kept Native Americans strong and healthy, she said. "I believe our bodies recognize those things.”
Remembering The Traditions
In Minneapolis, the city farmers at Little Earth are far from the wide open spaces of Shakopee. The strip of land they work is tiny.
Still, Fagrelius hopes the small city farm will continue to grow. A new greenhouse is planned. Having that would allow them to plant more heritage fruits and vegetables.
If these goals are going to be achieved, Little Earth will need the help of people like George Lussier. The 68-year-old tends the farm’s corn.
Lussier is member of the Red Lake nation. He grew up watching his grandmother and mother tend gardens full of vegetables.
He said he now tries to live by the words of his grandmother, who livedinto her 80s. Many times she saidto him: “Remember the things that you were taught when you were young.” _____________________________________________________________________
What are your thoughts on this article? Do you think it's a good idea for Native Americans to do this? Why or why not? Use text evidence to back up your answer.