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ANA: Working to Make Fresh and Traditional Foods Available and Affordable

Vegetable transplants being grown in a greenhouse.We all know through efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture ChooseMyPlate and the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiatives that nutrition is important to both overall health and educational outcomes for children. As we celebrate and reflect on National Nutrition Month, we must recognize sometimes serving more fresh fruits and vegetables can be challenging to communities lacking access to these resources. 

Imagine going to the only grocery store in your neighborhood and buying soggy, limp vegetables, which have spent weeks on a barge. You purchase apples at $9.69 for a three pound bag pound and carrots for $4.69 per two pound bag, bananas are a treat at $2.69 per pound.  Now imagine because of the isolation and weather conditions of your neighborhood, this is the only “fresh” fruit available. 

What if you had to serve meal after meal like this, and raise your children on this nutritionally substandard food, or even worse not being able to afford what is available, so you opt instead for shelf stable and processed foods? This is the daily reality for the nearly 500 inhabitants of St. Paul Island, one of the Pribilof Islands in Southwest Alaska. However, through a project being funded by the Administration for Native Americans, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, an Alaska Native tribal government, is doing something about it. They are building a climate appropriate greenhouse to cultivate fresh, affordable produce year-round for the community members to purchase. 

High tunnels under construction.Sometimes, our grantees use farming to bring jobs to their community. This is the main goal of the Choctaw Fresh Initiative for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The Tribe has experienced substantial job loss in some of the six remote communities. The Tribe envisions this project as a way to replace much needed employment through this job and revenue generating enterprise. They also plan to keep the food local by selling the produce to the Choctaw Resort and the Tribe’s 30 food establishments.

One of ANA’s past projects, at Pueblo of Pojoaque, focused on traditional farming techniques in addition to educational outreach. Project staff consulted elders and farmers in the Rio Grande Valley to deepen understanding of dry season and traditional farming. Through this research, the pueblo implemented traditional cultivation methods, such as waffle gardens and terraces, using Heirloom and traditional seeds. This method enabled the community to enjoy the same crop varieties as their ancestors.

Photo of a field of blueberries planted in rowsAdditional innovative techniques included using organic pest repellents and rotating crops to keep the soil safe and nutrient-rich. Passing on lessons learned, project staff coordinated Growers Outreach seminars at locally owned farms, providing experiential learning to community members in sustainable agricultural practices.

What does fresh food mean to you?  Do you have a cultural connection to your food?  Bringing back traditional foods, providing local employment, or helping local communities to access fresh affordable foods are some of the objectives of the nine projects ANA is currently funding to support local and regional food systems. 

Find out about efforts to support local foods in your community at the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass.  The website has a searchable map with information from USDA, Health and Human Services, and other federally supported local food projects, farmers markets, food hubs, meat processors and more!

Lillian Sparks, a Lakota woman of the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux Tribes, is the Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans.  Miss Sparks was confirmed by the United States Senate as the Commissioner on March 3, 2010, and was sworn in on March 5, 2010.  She has devoted her career to supporting the educational pursuits of Native American students, protecting the rights of indigenous people, and empowering tribal communities.

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