Native youth farmer
markets sell veggies from heirloom seeds
Condensed by Native Village
The Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) Indian Farmer's Markets offers produce grown by Native farmers from heirloom seeds. Those seeds were preserved by Potawatomi elder Cora Baker, who passed away 10 years ago.
Baker was born in Michigan, raised a family in Wisconsin, and lived her later years in Nebraska. She preserved Native seeds everywhere she went. Many people gifted their corn, bean, and squash seeds to the woman known as the Keeper of the Seeds. Baker eventually collected over 90 varieties of Native seed.
Five months before
she died, Baker wrote a letter to
Dream of Wild Health, a ten-acre farm in
Hugo, Minnesota dedicated to traditional farming.
"I prayed and prayed that someone would take this gardening up again," Baker wrote. "I am very pleased to learn about your project. I feel that the Great Creator has answered my humble prayers. With the help of my great grand-daughter and grandson, we set out to help you. I wish that someday the children will come to realize the importance of the garden,"
Today, Native youth known as as "Garden Warriors" spend three days a week at Dream of Wild Health. They perform all the duties of growing organic food -- from planting and harvesting to bringing it to market to sell at the Unci Maka Indian Farmer's Markets. Since 2005, 65 youth have participated.
18-year-old Tatiana Williams, Lakota, tends one Unci Maka stand. A third year Garden Warrior, Williams says selling vegetables to the public completes her education as a Native gardener.
"I've learned how to produce healthy foods and how to make them taste great. I've learned about my culture, how to use tobacco, how to grow and dry it, and how to pray," Williams said.
Diane Wilson is the operations director for Dream of Wild Health. She said Garden Warriors also learn other practical life skills.
"They receive a pay check for their participation," she said. "So we have a bank representative come to the farm and teach them about financial literacy. They open accounts so they have somewhere to cash their checks and manage their money."
Wilson says Garden Warriors are chosen from many Native communities. "We get kids from Little Earth, throughout St. Paul, lower-income neighborhoods, foster homes - some have very hard stories. We help them prevent diabetes and obesity by learning to change their relationship to food, by learning how to plant, harvest, cook, and sell food."
At the second Unci Maka market, Garden Warriors are joined by student farmers from Nawayee Center School. Several years ago, the Native-focused public school converted a vacant lot into a bountiful garden.
Center School students have also published a cookbook with their favorite recipes , including "Chilled Wild Rice Cranberry Salad," and "Ta'Lana's Ultimate Banana Split." Recipes are named for the student who invented the desserts.
At first, Nawayee Center School's director Joe Rice worried about investing precious funds in the garden project. Now he says the risk has paid-off.
"When I see these kids taking care of our garden, growing these wonderful foods, and out selling those foods, acting like adults in the way they interact with customers, it gives me a lot of hope for the future," said Rice.
Garden Market Times and Locations
3:00 - 7:00 pm
Midtown Market, Lake St & 22nd Ave., Minneapolis
Thursdays: thru Sept. 23,
11:00 am - 1:00 pm
Minneapolis American Indian Center, 1530 E. Franklin Ave., and also at 926 Payne Ave., St. Paul