The Indigenous Farming Project (IFP)—currently based near Owens Valley, California—is working with local Native American communities to help them develop and publicize local small-scale food sovereignty and traditional agriculture projects.
The IFP is a tribal agriculture and nutrition program that aims to preserve and support traditional culinary and plant knowledge in Native American communities. The program currently supports existing sustainable agriculture projects that are being developed by the Environmental Departments for Big Pine Paiute Tribe and the Bishop Paiute Tribe.
The IFP has recently begun working with Mikaela Griffiths, the Timbisha-Shoshone Tribal Environmental Director, to initiate several projects including the recovery of tribal mesquite groves that historically have served as a vital regional food source.
Tribes participating in the IFP receive support to establish and/or maintain seed-saving libraries and install and/or maintain community gardens. The project will also support the facilitation of educational workshops about traditional cultivation, harvesting medicinal plants, and the preparation of garden produce—all drawn from the expertise of tribal members and traditional native food activists.
The project consults with other tribes across the country as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service. The IFP also collaborates with Planting Justice, an organization that promotes sustainable local food systems, and Futurefarmers, a multidisciplinary collective that explores various means of addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.
“Working with and listening to many tribal members during the course of the IFP leads me to believe that recovery and preservation of cultural food knowledge and practices are the bedrock of lasting food sovereignty. The lasting, painful impact that the forced suppression of native food/language/culture has had on native people comes up in most conversations around food traditions and gardening,” said Anya Kamenskaya, the IFP program director.
Scholars and historians from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that traditional Native American agriculture helped preserve soil fertility and provided a stable, healthy source of food to the Native American diet.
The IFP’s focus on helping participating tribes establish successful community gardens is meant to attract more individual interest and institutional and financial support. This may enable tribal communities to develop larger agricultural businesses that eventually will support tribal economic development. The community gardens also serve as vital community teaching spaces.
In November the IFP also launched the Puhidua Registry, a web-based mapping tool that allows food growers in the Owens Valley to register their food sovereignty-related projects and promote agricultural information sharing. The registry was developed as a response to the lack of information about existing food system projects and agricultural expertise being shared among both tribal and some non-tribal communities living closely together in the Owens Valley. Kamenskaya notes that people involved in tribal food sovereignty projects in other parts of California have expressed interest in the registry, which “can be used and shared between many bioregions and communities.”
Beginning in March, the IFP will be working with SeedKeepers, an emerging seed-saving training program. This seed-saving program will be led by indigenous leaders Winona LaDuke, an American Indian activist, and Rowen White, who works with the Western Sierra seed-saving community. The Big Pine and Bishop Paiute tribes are currently creating, curating, and managing their own seed stock.
While the IFP aims to establish a new framework for sustainable, community-based food system development, its ultimate function is to incubate tribal food sovereignty efforts until they have enough resources and support to operate independently—after which the initiative will disband.
“We at IFP want to help support whatever container for conversation, collaboration, and inspiration around food tradition is appropriate for the people living in a specific bioregion,” said Kamenskaya.