Farm Food Facts

Native American Heritage Month: Native farming and ranching 101

November 09, 2023 USFRA
Native American Heritage Month: Native farming and ranching 101
Farm Food Facts
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Farm Food Facts
Native American Heritage Month: Native farming and ranching 101
Nov 09, 2023

November is Native American Heritage Month, and we invite you to learn more about the cultures, traditions, and achievements of Native Americans. Today we are joined by Chanel Ford the director of programs at the Native American Agriculture Fund. NAAF provides grants to eligible organizations and business assistance, agricultural education, technical support and advocacy services to support native farmers and ranchers. We dig deeper into the basics of native farmers and ranchers and future innovations.

Learn more about NAAF and how you can celebrate Native American Heritage this month and every month with the resources listed below.

Show Notes Transcript

November is Native American Heritage Month, and we invite you to learn more about the cultures, traditions, and achievements of Native Americans. Today we are joined by Chanel Ford the director of programs at the Native American Agriculture Fund. NAAF provides grants to eligible organizations and business assistance, agricultural education, technical support and advocacy services to support native farmers and ranchers. We dig deeper into the basics of native farmers and ranchers and future innovations.

Learn more about NAAF and how you can celebrate Native American Heritage this month and every month with the resources listed below.

Speaker 1 (00:00):

November is Native American Heritage Month, and we invite you to learn more about the cultures, traditions, and achievements of Native Americans. We are going to focus on the basics with Chanel for, she's the director of programs at the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF). This organization provides grants to eligible organizations and business assistance, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy services to support native farmers and ranchers. With Chanel today, we will learn about the demographic, proper terminology with native farmers and ranchers and some of the future innovations that they are looking forward to. So, to start our conversation, Chanel, can you share some examples of the different types of native farming and agricultural products that exist among a variety of geographic locations across the United States?


Speaker 2 (00:48):

Yes. Well, first off, thank you so much for having me. Uh, I do want to preface this conversation by saying, um, my goal here is to really convey the understanding, um, that there's really not a cookie cutter approach. One approach when discussing Indian country. Um, I'm gonna do my best to answer from my perspective and, and using my thoughts. But as indigenous peoples and Native Americans, we aren't always going to identify with the same terminology and different experiences. But I'm gonna do my best to, to showcase my, my personal perspectives and, and thoughts. So, across the United States, there's more than 60,000 native producers, which is shocking to a lot of people when you give a number. So, cattle is actually one of the top ag products among the native producers. And then we have data that the American Indian Farms make up 3% of all farms across the United States. So that data actually comes from the 2017 ag census data. So sometimes, you know, as we see with, with research and data collection, there's, there's gaps. Um, so this total does not grasp, uh, the whole picture of Native Ag. It gives you a good perspective, though, a good kind of glimpse, uh, as to what native producers, um, look like and, and kind of the, the reach and the impact that we're having.


Speaker 1 (02:10):

Can you share the demographic of Native Americans in agriculture in the United States?


Speaker 2 (02:15):

Thinking about the demographic of Native Americans in ag in the United States? Some statistics here, some, some data. We have 46.6% of native producers engage in farming as their primary occupation. Um, and then 53.4% have other primary occupations. Um, 96% of native farms are family farms. This is, um, quite often throughout Indian country. Um, as, as it is, I think in, in ag in general, when you've got the family business and the family farm. But specifically, in, in, um, native Ag, it's, it's going down to the next generation, which is really exciting. The average age for a native producer is 56 years, nearly 5% of the native population. This is specific to Arizona now. So nearly 5% of the native population in Arizona are agricultural producers. Native farms and ranches are more likely to be operated by women than the general US producer population. So women actually comprise 41% of the native producer population, um, and they comprise 37% of the overall US producer population. So I think those are some pretty exciting statistics in, in terms of female native farming and ranching. But also just a really good kind of insight on what, uh, the demographic looks like in terms of Native American farming and ranching Native American agriculture.


Speaker 1 (03:46):

Right. And it really shows that agriculture is very important to you and to the Native American culture. So thank you for sharing some of those statistics. Now, let's get really, really basic, um, just for just the average person that might not understand, but they've heard these terms, and they don't know when to use them or what they exactly mean. Let's first start talking about, usually this is like in regards to an area. What is the difference between nations and reservations, and how does tribes fit into that?


Speaker 2 (04:18):

Sure, yes. I think this is a, a good question and probably a question that a lot of, um, individuals don't know the answer to. So when we're talking about the distinction between reservations and tribal nations, we're really talking about the makeup of landscape versus a sovereign government. So when we say things like tribal nation, that's government to government, there are certain treaty responsibilities. So keeping this in mind, there are certain treaty responsibilities that the federal government has responsibilities to uphold. So it's not about the borderline of our land, it's about the authority of that land. So this is a specific example for me. The name of my tribe is the Spokane Tribe of Indians, but you might have Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation. That's different than the Spokane Tribe of Indians. So how we refer to them will be different for every community, every nation, every tribe.


Speaker 2 (05:12):

Um, but I don't think, you know, if you are having a conversation with somebody and you feel like you're going to say the wrong thing, the important thing is just to ask the question. Like I said, I reside on a, a reservation, so that is different than a nation or a tribe, right? That's just where I reside. I reside on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Um, but when you think about nations and you think about tribes, I'm a member of the Choctaw Nation, or the Cherokee Nation is involved in agriculture by X, Y, Z. So those are just some specific examples as to how they differ and kind of what each title means.


Speaker 1 (05:50):

From a non-native perspective, I feel like it's okay, or I, I've been okay with like putting that disclaimer out there of, I'm not really sure how to ask this, and I, I apologize if I offend, but that's kind of a way to, to ask certain questions. When you do wanna learn more about the native culture, and I know that was a more really basic example, but let's now talk about the proper terminology for Native Americans. Can you kind of share the difference between native versus indigenous? Is it professional or Okay to say Indian?


Speaker 2 (06:24):

Per my perspective and my thoughts on it, I would try to steer clear from using the word Indian. Most of us do not identify as just like that Indian or Indian people. But if you notice in the documents, um, the US documents, uh, that were created, especially with the treaty documents, the term Indian was used to describe us. So that's where that terminology, um, stems from. But it's not something that we typically go by now. So there are some terms that we'll say Indian country, um, Indian owned, but really it depends on the person that you're speaking to. It's important, I think, to just understand where the person's from that you're talking to. So villages that are up in Alaska, they are referred to as Alaska, native Canada. You have Canadian natives, uh, here, you know, it's by tribe or by nation. So I think just asking like you have already mentioned, asking those questions, ask, you know, what tribe or nation are you a part of? What would you like to be referred to as? Is, is it okay for me to say Native American? Is it okay for me to say, um, indigenous? Um, asking, asking that question I think is always important. And knowing the, the people that you're surrounded by doing a little bit of background research never hurts anybody but me personally. Um, I don't mind being called Native American. I think that's a, a good use of terminology or indigenous, indigenous peoples embodies all indigenous people. So that's just kind of my suggestions on, on the, the verbiage.


Speaker 1 (08:03):

Thank you for, for laying that out. Now, what are some commonalities between natives and non-natives, and how can we celebrate our differences and work together for a shared future?


Speaker 2 (08:15):

Right. So I think this is a good question. The bottom line is that we are all impacted by agriculture. The food we eat, textiles and the clothes we wear, our economy, um, and food security. I think a lot of us held this very, um, severe commonality when covid hit, and we had no access to food. I mean, we were all impacted by that. Um, uh, native Americans, indigenous peoples, a lot of us are in rural settings, rural locations. And for us, having to travel to get to, um, the city to purchase food was a hassle because we couldn't leave and we didn't have produce coming in. But everybody else in the, in the country was also experiencing the effects of not being able to purchase produce and farming. Farmers and ranchers were not being able to sell their produce. So I think that was a major hurdle we often face together where you're native, um, or non-native.


Speaker 2 (09:14):

And so just thinking about, you know, that kind of, just as a really, um, a bigger, a bigger commonality, but tribes can serve as the backbone of rural economies. Um, we can be the top employer of states. Um, people often kind of focus on disparities at times, but we have a lot of strengths that we can provide, and we're resilient people. And now we're, we're looking forward to providing partnerships, and we're looking forward to bridging gaps that we see in our communities that we can bridge by forging relationships with non-native individuals. Tribes are starting their own departments of agriculture. Um, they're, they're starting their own food distribution programs, which is really exciting. At NAAF, we specifically, um, have a, we're in a unique position that really does allow us to collaborate and coordinate with non-tribal entities through other organizations that we have created. So whether it's Native Americans or non-native, uh, we're all immersed in, in agriculture every day. And in order to create this sustainable future, um, we all have to work together. And so, um, you know, we've always understood the sustainable way of life. And I think that now more than ever, we need to rely on our resources and building relationships, building capacity with everybody in the country to forge and to move forward to that sustainable future. Right.


Speaker 1 (10:46):

One of the commonalities you, you mentioned kind of in the beginning that really stuck to me is you mentioned how important family farming is from a non-native perspective, it's, it's just as important and that family farm and, and are you seeing, you said the average age is 56, a lot of those succession plans that's helping that Native Farms are looking at passing the farm down to the next generation and they're working on a succession plan?


Speaker 2 (11:11):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, yes. That is actually really important to farming and ranching right now. Succession plans are huge. And I specifically speaking from, um, the, you know, the NAAF standpoint of it, 'cause we've seen it firsthand. Um, there has been major conversation about how do we bring in somebody to help us build that succession plan? What does that look like? Can you help us plan the next 10 years out? Can you help us plan the next 20 years out? Um, and I know that that coexists with, um, non-native farming and ranching operations. It's what does this look like for, for our future? And how do we sustain what we have and make sure that, um, we're ahead of the game and not, um, you know, if there are obstacles or roadblocks that we're gonna come up against, we know them because we've got, you know, we we're working on this succession plan and you can prepare for it better.


Speaker 2 (12:07):

But yeah, it's very important. And knowing that I, I grew up on a bison ranch. My dad raises bison on our reservation and Ford Ranch is what it's called, and it's a family ordeal, and we're just a small operation. So knowing just that family keeps the wheels turning for a lot of these farming and ranching efforts, I think, um, it's just so great to, to always peel back to that and say, um, just how important the, I guess, relationships and, and family reliance is when it comes to, um, these family operations and, and obviously the bigger operations too. We're, we're all working together, we're all impacted by things. And I, like I said, I can say that succession planning is important, and we've seen that on our end in terms of what it looks like for future ranching and farming operations.


Speaker 1 (12:59):

Very relatable. And thank you for sharing that personal story too. What are some things that are being done in native agriculture that help uphold traditional ways and sovereign rights?


Speaker 2 (13:09):

Right. That's a good, good question. So tribal food and agricultural systems are really deeply tied to indigenous cultures and traditions. Things that we've been practicing and living by, or, you know, years and years and years. Sovereignty allows tribes to maintain and revive that traditional knowledge. It allows us to maintain and still utilize, um, traditional farming techniques, um, and food practices, uh, that have sustained tribal communities for generations. And by practicing these, um, that's the way that sovereignty really continues to thrive. So in our world, here at NAAF, at the Native American Agriculture Fund, we specifically fund projects that directly support traditional ways of living and sovereign rights. And whether it is a, a community garden that grows traditional foods, or if it's a big ranching operation that provides, um, produce to community grocery stores or farmer's markets, what have you,


Speaker 1 (14:10):

November is Native American Heritage Month. How can a non-native celebrate Native American heritage month?


Speaker 2 (14:19):

I really encourage you to take a look at whatever, um, state or city you live in. Think about, do some research on who is around you. Are there tribal nations, are there tribes, entities around you that, um, you could potentially go visit or, um, do some more research on? And maybe they're, maybe they are impacting your state in a really positive way. I know a lot of our farming and ranching communities, native agricultural communities, have impacted their own states and have major impacts across the country. So I think doing some research about who's around you, um, are there tribes around you? Also, local colleges and universities often have celebrations geared towards Native American Heritage Month. So there often are powwows that they will host, um, luncheon events that they will host, and those are open to the public. So I highly suggest attending a powwow, if you can, attending a, a feast if you can.


Speaker 2 (15:23):

And really, um, just honing in on, on who, you know, whose traditional land are you on, um, and who's around you that you could get some information from education on. And, and a really cool experience. So there's also a lot of native artists that you can support. Um, check out their websites, purchase their bead work, um, supporting them in that way. There's also a chef, I, I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with the sous chef, uh, Sean Sherman. Um, but he has cookbooks available, uh, and on YouTube, I believe a YouTube channel where you can take your produce and create some pretty amazing scratch meals, uh, and walks through all those, um, via video. So check that out. But really just, just trying to find any artists and any, um, you know, surrounding areas that you're willing to support or willing to educate yourself on, I think is always, always a plus. And not just during this month, you could do it every month, <laugh>. 


Speaker 1 (16:22):

Right. We put an emphasis on November, but you can be doing this all the time, and we'll make sure that we drop a few links for any of our listeners that might be interested in trying to learn more or purchase a product. I think the biggest thing too is if you do go to an event, don't be afraid to ask questions. That's one thing that's been really great working with the Native American Agriculture Fund, is you guys have been so open with sharing, you know, different traditions in the history. So we really appreciate that. So if you are at an event, don't be afraid to ask a question. Well, Chanel, we have one more question as we wrap up this episode of Farm Food Facts. What innovative items is NAF focused on for the future of native producers?


Speaker 2 (17:01):

This is a, a great question and an exciting question. Uh, for us. Part of our work includes investments as founding funders for three separate entities that are now their own organizations. First is the Native Agriculture Financial Services, which will apply for other financing institution status within the farm credit system. It's the first agricultural lending entity of its kind within the Farm Credit system, which is dedicated to Native American Ag lending. They'll do their first participatory loans with CDFIs, and we're really proud of that entity, and they're focusing on increasing access to capital for native producers. Additionally, we have Tribal agriculture fellowship program. Um, this is a nonprofit institution with the mission of creating opportunities for students to advance their education with the purpose of preserving and promoting the legacy of agriculture and tribal communities. Um, that's a funded fellowship program, and they have their first few graduates, um, of the, of their Native Ag Professionals cohort, which is really awesome.


Speaker 2 (18:01):

Um, they help with covering tuition and providing just incredible opportunities for professional development to aiding native students in, in achieving their educational goals. And then I just wanted to flag that we were sharing earlier about being able to, you had asked the question about, um, commonalities and, um, I had mentioned that it is really it important for us, um, as a Native American serving entity to collaborate with, um, entities that are native serving, but also are not native serving. And so these new entities that have been created, we were excited about the opportunities that led to collaborating with entities that were not native. So it was, it just was a really neat experience coming together and seeing who was interested in the uprise of the entities and these organizations, and knowing that we can all rely on one another to enhance agriculture across the country. So just, just reiterating that it is important that we all come together and we bridge gaps, um, to have these amazing opportunities in agriculture worldwide.


Speaker 1 (19:27):

Definitely. I mean, you've definitely laid this all out from us, from the basics to some of those future exciting things that are happening for you. And I think the big thing is, is don't be afraid to reach out to native area that you wanna learn more or maybe you wanna partner with and, and work together in the future. So we've been talking with Chanel for, she's the director of programs at the Native American Agriculture Fund. And if this topic interests you, we invite you to check out the Native American Agriculture Fund's website, native american agriculture Well, we appreciate your time, and if you enjoyed listening to our podcast, please subscribe and rate us on your favorite podcast app. Tune in again. I'm Joanna Guza for Farm Food Facts.