Like many rural communities, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, a Mohican Indian tribe in north central Wisconsin, wants to increase its access to fresh produce but faces multiple barriers. For one, the tribe owns 500 acres of farmland that has become depleted of nutrients and organic matter after many years of improper management by previous tenants. Local gardeners and farmers lack knowledge of the soil management practices that improve fertility, such as taking and interpreting soil tests, making compost and using cover crops. Also, some community members are reluctant to grow produce because of the intensive labor required to control weeds. Food preservation and season extension are other areas where there’s an opportunity to improve food security, but also a lack of knowledge on how to do so.
The Actions Taken
Funded by two SARE grants, Stockbridge-Munsee Community Agriculture Agent Kellie Zahn is working with local educators to give new and existing farmers hands-on training in many areas that she hopes will improve the tribe’s ability to grow fresh produce. Based at a community farm called “Keek-oche” in Mohican or “From the Earth” in English, Zahn and her collaborators have organized events and demonstrations on soil testing, crop rotation, cover crops, composting and intercropping with the traditional “Three Sisters” of corn, beans and squash.
They have made weed management a primary focus as well. Zahn has shown community members how to adopt effective tools such as flame weeding, landscape fabrics and mulches. Other demonstrations showed how to extend the growing season by using low tunnels and by starting seeds indoors with simple pots made of newspaper. Food preservation, composting, beekeeping and promoting beneficial insects were other topics they addressed.
They also collected data on crop yield from the demonstration farm and on sales at the local farmers’ market to help small-scale growers assess the profit potential of selling produce within the community.
The Stockbridge-Munsee Community’s food sovereignty committee is happy with the team’s progress and is eager to see it continue, Zahn reports. Specific impacts include:
- Sharing new information: The project team reached more than 200 farmers through workshops and online events. They also produced a series of fact sheets and videos throughout the project to supplement their events.
- Increased farmer knowledge: More than 50 farmers reported that they learned something new in the areas of soil health, weed management, vegetable production, beekeeping and indigenous farming techniques.
- Leveraged funding: The project team has received five new grants to continue their food security work in the community.
Want more information? See the related SARE grants: