Winter Solstice Ambition

As busy and scattered as I feel this winter there is one obvious thread connecting all that I do. November was Indigenous Heritage Month and December is Write a Business Plan Month. I am combining the two for you! Because that big thread is running through all and everything I have been so busy doing. 

This winter I have had opportunities to hear from some of the most inspiring folks involved in the Native Food Sovereignty movement. They’ve helped me think more deeply about the vision and mission of Good Rain Farm and I want to share them with you!

feeding7gens

Poster above from the First Nations Development Institute, Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Boardand Muckleshoot Tribe. Artist is Joe Seymour 

In early November I attended the Carbon Sink Convergence in San Diego and had the opportunity to meet inspiring farmers from across the nation and learn how others were reclaiming their various traditional food ways from specific places such as Vietnam, or the Philippines, to broadly Africa, Mexico, Middle East and all around Indian Country. It was a great privilege to spend time on the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians Reservation hearing from Loren BirdRattler of the Blackfeet, Project Manager of the Tribes Agriculture Resource Management Plan  and A-dae Romero-Briones who is the Director of Programs for the Native Agriculture and Food Systems at the First Nations Development Institute.

Speaking at the Washington Tilth Conference  was Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot, the keynote speaker and Mary Lee Jones of the Yakama tribe opened the conference with a moving land acknowledgement. She taught us the Swan Dance that you can see in a video by clicking the link embedded in her name and also lead a workshop where she talked in depth about traditional food ways. I also met some awesome fellow Farmers some of who’ll be listed in my PNW Native Food Growers and Providers list below! 

Rowan White who is Mohawk, was the key note speaker at The Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference. Chef Nephi Craig who is White Mountain Apache/Navajo along with the Ndee Bikiyaa Farmer Frank lead a workshop titled the Western Apache Paradigm on Food. It was great to hear from those folks above and talk with farmers from the eastern seaboard. Exchanging ideas and challenging ways of thinking was extremely beneficial and look forward to ways that experience will seep into my farming and our farming community here. 

Having the opportunity to meet so many Indigenous Women as key notes, workshop leaders, speakers, thinkers and business owners. I am blown away, impressed, inspired and I am starting to see my place amongst them and within the Food Justice movement as a whole. They are traditional crafters and dancers, they are nutritionists, story tellers, seed keepers, teachers, people with prefixes, Chefs. I am the Farmer among them, alongside many others, tending the earth and distributing food. I may not be able to write amazing technical papers, or know all the stories to tell, or how to cook the food in amazing ways, I can’t tell you all the benefits of eating healthy local food. But I can and love to grow it!

allmyrelations

In between all these amazing events I have been listening to podcast by Indigenous Women, most notably The Toasted Sister and All My Relations. Attending a variety of workshops but most worth mentioning is the Tend, Gather, Grow workshop hosted by GRuB (Garden Raised Bounty) in Olympia where I met a mother, daughter duo of Sinixt Heritage! They loved what I could say in our Salish Language and were excited to connect me with other Sinixt/Colville folks here in Portland!

I don’t know if all those great people up there have a business plan, but they do all have a plan. These experiences and these people I have met in just a short 60 day window have inspired so much focus and intention into the what and hows of Good Rain Farm. My take away from 2019 is this, Just Do It, buckle down, bust it out, kick butt! After attending all these conferences and events, I know what I am doing. I know I can grow food really well. The goal in 2020 is to reduce distractions, focusing on growing great food I can be super proud of, that you enjoy, that’s the goal. So for the rest of 2019/2020 winter I am focusing on the Business plan. What will my days look like? Where will support labor come from? Logistics, crop plan, methods of ensuring I track my cars mileage, that I enter receipts into the excel sheet, all those little daily business needs are going to have a plan and I am going to stick to it, stay organized and allow myself to free up time from shoe box chaos to focus on growing food. 

With a stronger vision and mission, I am better able to focus on the part of Business planning that is researching the market, the agriculture industry on macro and micro scales, understanding my target market and working out marketing plans to reach y’all with the right produce, story and visions. How do I communicate with you about what I am doing that gives me a niche market within the wider industry? Amongst poking around various Chambers of Commerce, including Oregon Native American Chamber – a great resource for finding Native Owned Business to shop with throughout Oregon and SouthWest Washington; part of my research is reading and understanding the USDA Census of Agriculture. 

f2s-tribal-food

What I found most interesting again was the prevalence of Native focused snapshots provided. I thought I would provide you with synthesis of what I have learned. Many of the above people support and have helped grow these statistics over the past 5 years. Between 2012 to 2017 the USDA has found a 10% increase in American Indian/Alaskan Native producers – this is in part due to how they’ve reworded questions (this alone led to a 7% increase throughout the census).  It is my assumption that Natives in general are increasingly self reporting at higher rates. As a group of people who have battled all sorts of harm we have chronically under reported ourselves choosing to identify with any other race than ‘Native’. I used to check the ‘White/Caucasian’ box myself due to all sorts of reasons, among them not believing I was ‘Native enough’.

The USDA has found that of all the Race and ethnicities Native producers were most likely to be young and female, that is, under 35 years of age (I am 33). 36% of the total farmers in the US reported being Female. Female farmers are most likely to live on the farm and be younger than their male counterparts, averaging 57 years of age. 8% of both male and female respondents are under the age of 35 for women that is up from 6% in 2012. There has been a 27% growth in female farmers throughout the whole US between 2012 and 2017. Oregon ranked as the 4th state with the most female farmers with Washington coming in at 7th. 19% of Female farmers have received Government Funds (Unsure if this is payouts, subsidies or contracts to schools etc.) compared to 26% of their male counterparts receiving similar government funding. In Washington farming has reduced by -4% over all, with the most farmers (34%) farming between 10-49 acres. 47% of Washington farmers are Valued by Sales at less than $2,500 worth of product. Female Farmers throughout the US are 50% likely to be similarly ranked at $2,500 value by sale, when you look at the numbers of primary income coming from Farm or Off Farm the numbers suggest that many work 2nd jobs.

Statistics are interesting and I always consider who is asking questions, how they are asking them and who they are directing them to. For me, the average age of farmers has barely moved over the last ten years, the majority of white men in farming is still overwhelming, and the inability of majority 10 acres and under farmers to make a living is disheartening (all the while land prices are going up out of reach of many). I do still feel and see a shift happening. There is more diversity in the agricultural industry, indeginous women are farming at higher rates than almost any other ethnicity, bringing with them reverence for the earth and all beings living upon her. The visibility and opportunities for all those who I mentioned at the beginning of this post to speak, teach and spread their worldview around is truly inspiring and I believe is an indication that folks are beginning to listen and that hearts and minds are changing. We can continue to move these statistics and the reality they are trying to inform you about together, as a community. 

Thanks to you as always for joining me in community to help push our world forward, to thrust a new year, a new dawn, with brighter and more just futures for us all. I deeply believe a more equitable world will produce a cleaner, healthier, safer, and smarter society, communities with unique traditions, characteristics and diets but also with common reverence and love for life above greed, money and the haves and have nots. More and diverse heads thinking about all that we do will open up so many new and clever solutions that our currently isolated institutions could never imagine. Cheers to a future of lively discussion, solution making, and community building – always around a table full of healthy, nutritious food!

Here is the list of PNW Native Food Business I promised!

Name of Business Where Type
Bison Coffee House Portland, Or Coffee Shop
Good Rain Farm Portland Metro Farm
Longhearing Farm Darrington, Wa Farm
Wapato Island Farm Sauvie Island, Or Farm
Birch Basket Seattle, Wa Catering & Private Chef
Indiginous Roots Farm Duvall, Wa Farm
Salmon King Catering Warm Springs, Or Fishery, Cannery & Catering
Snake Mountain Ranch Bellingham, Wa Ranch – Livestock
Herbnhood Roseberg, Or Botanical Products & Clothing
Clary Sage Herbarium Portland, Or Apothecary / Retail
Little Sun Farm Portland Metro Farm
Harsh Farm Bremerton, Wa Farm
Two Spirit Medicinals Portland, Or Medicinal
Muckleshoot Seafood Products Auburn, Wa Fishery
Sakari Farms Tumalo, Or Farm
She nah nam Seafood Olympia, Wa Fishery
Suquamish Seafood Poulsbo, Wa Fishery
Eagle Crossing Restaurant Warm Springs, Or Restaurant
Battleground Apothecary Battleground, Wa Apothecary
Off The Rez Seattle, Wa Food Truck

Lim̓lm̓t (Thank you in the Sinixt Language),

From your farmer,

Michelle Week


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