After a week back in Wisconsin, this portion of the trip began with a stop to present at the Northern Michigan Small Farmers Conference and to the Little Traverse Bay Band’s Tribal Council.
The Little Traverse Bay Band recently purchased a 318 acre farm site, complete with buildings and equipment, to expand their food production to promote community health, cultural education, and economic development. A river crosses through the site, which contains large fields, a small amount of forest, and a barn and farmhouse. The farm is also located next to a state forest that could provide additional resources and opportunities.
Michigan is one of the world’s most agriculturally diverse, primarily because Lake Michigan provides additional moisture and temperature regulation, allowing expansive fruit, berry, and vegetable production. The lake also provides excellent fish resources to Tribes, including Little Traverse Bay Band who operates Odawa Fisheries in Mackinaw City.
Somewhat surprisingly, snow greeted the return to New Mexico, even forcing the plane to make a second landing attempt before safely touching down.
The fresh snow in the desert made an already striking landscape even more beautiful, especially in the early morning sun.
The roads started getting very slippery almost as soon as the van exited I-40 on its route north into the heart of Navajo territory. The weather didn’t make the landscape any less picturesque, although it made it more difficult to enjoy the beauty since staying safely on the road required total attention.
Putting together the schedule on such a long and complex is not an easy task. To a degree, planning around certain event is possible, but oftentimes making key events is somewhat a matter of chance. Fortunately, Navajo’s Diné College happened to have an Indigenous Food Conference planned in perfect timing with the roadtrip’s route.
The Mobile Farmers Market’s arrival was slightly delayed due to weather both on the road and the previous day, which complicated my arrival back into Albuquerque, making my bag arrive at 1:30am. However, the schedule worked out, as I arrived in time for lunch and the entire afternoon of presentations.
The biggest disappointment in arriving late was missing Dana Eldridge’s presentation on community food assessments. During her time working for Diné College, Dana led a community food assessment effort that placed the community at the center and used students and youth to conduct interviews. The approach is a great model for other communities interested in developing a more complete picture of their food system, especially from their members’ perspective.
Following my presentation on the technical assistance available through the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) and giving an overview of the Mobile Farmers Market other related projects, I hosted a market event that introduced an assortment of new Native food products to Diné students and staff, as well as other conference attendees. One of these notable attendees was Gloria Begay who helped spearhead effort to pass a junk food tax across the Navajo reservation while lifting taxes on healthy food; that junk food tax was subsequently vetoed by the Navajo president.
A half day on the Navajo reservation was not nearly enough. More time to explore canyons such as this (with permission, of course) would have been great.
Starting a month-long trip after only a (busy) week at home was difficult and kind of stressful, especially given flight complications that resulted in minimal sleep the night before. However, a brilliant sunset went a long way into getting back into the flow.
While snow obscured the view of White Mountain, the drive into the White Mountain reservation was still extremely scenic.
The legacy of Indian boarding schools runs deep on American Indian reservations. These boarding schools punished Native students for practicing traditional customs, and violence was rampant. Thus, it was sort of surprising to see Fort Apache and is military roots so intact. In speaking with a couple community members, their perspective seeks to reclaim the site in a positive respect by productively using it for community cultural and social events. It also houses Tribal government offices.
The White Mountain Apache event at Fort Apache was targeted to the community, with the garden and farm staff helping to prepare a meal in conjunction with a market setup and tables from related local food and agriculture efforts. I also prepared a Native salad and pot of corn soup made from Oneida white corn. These type of rainy days are an excellent reminder of the need to finish outfitting the van with a built-in awning or at least replacing our broken pop-up awning with a higher-quality version.
The canyon behind Fort Apache is breathtaking. A river running through is likely the primary reason the for the town and fort.
In addition to White Mountain Apache community members, staff from San Carlos Apache’s project working to research traditional foods attended the event, sharing their work that is analyzing these traditional foods’ nutritional elements and other key characteristics as part of an effort to increasingly bring them back into everyday use.
Staffing the market tables alone when there is large crowd is difficult and exhausting, particularly when everyone is curious to learn more about new and unfamiliar products. At the same time, it’s rewarding to share knowledge on unique Tribal foods while making them available, which is a huge objective of the Reconnecting the Tribal Trade Routes Roadtrip.
The corn soup, this one featuring bacon as the main meat, was a huge hit with the crowd. Many people asked for the recipe, which will be forthcoming. It was also great to have local traditional foods like yeast rolls made in the farm’s clay oven and stew.
After emerging from the mountains where cell service was almost non-existent, I received a message asking if I had sufficient supplies of wild rice for TOCA’s (Tohono O’odham Community Action) monthly Guest Chef Dinner. The guest chef canceled, so their Desert Rain Café staff improvised to create a special last-minute menu that included a braised beef stew served over White Earth wild rice provided by the Mobile Farmers Market. I was happy to put on the chef’s apron immediately upon my arrival to prepare the pot of wild rice for the meal.