The Oneida Nation Community Composting Project

January 3, 2024
The Oneida Community Integrated Food System program has been working to develop a community composting education project to improve the soil at Oneida Nation’s Tsyunhehkwa farm and community plots and gardens. Photo by William Ver Voort.

 On 85 acres within the Oneida Reservation in northeastern Wisconsin, close to Green Bay, you’ll find fields of Iroquois White Corn, beef cattle on pasture, free-range chickens, and rows of vegetables such as beans and squash. This is Tsyunhehkwa Farm. Tsyunhehkwa (pronounced Joon-hey-qwa), which translates to “life sustenance” or nourishment, provides the Oneida Nation community with traditional food staples like white corn. Beyond that, it actively promotes sustainable growing practices among community members. 

Tsyunhehkwa is part of the Oneida Community Integrated Food System (OCIFS) program. In 1994, OCIFS was founded to bring together local food producers, increase the community’s food quality, share information on health and nutrition, and create jobs and opportunities. OCIFS does food distribution, farming, horticulture, ranching, nutrition education, and community outreach. 

William Ver Voort serves as the coordinator of OCIFS. Ver Voort grew up on a dairy farm on the Oneida Reservation and has been working with the OCIFS since 1999. In his role, he has worked on various activities, from growing projects with 4H to food distribution for elders. One of his passions is composting. 

Community Composting

In 2021, OCIFS and Ver Voort received an $8,718 Farmer Rancher grant from SARE to develop a community composting education project using farm waste from the Oneida Nation’s Tsyunhehkwa farm. With this project, the OCIFS wanted to improve the soil health of the Tsyunhehkwa farm’s white corn acres, along with some community farms and gardens. They also wanted to reintroduce traditional soil preservation and enhancement activities to the community. 

“While the reservation economy relies increasingly less on agriculture as a whole, the demand for local agricultural products that are produced sustainably is again spurring the Oneida to reinvest in local agricultural systems,” said Ver Voort. “Composting has been proven safe when done correctly and supports the protection and even improvement of the surrounding growing environment and freshwater supply.” 

With the grant support, OCFIS acquired a 2-ton capacity food waste fermenting bin and a 106-gallon compost tumbler. Informational materials and videos were developed, and these resources were shared through workshops with community members and youth organizations. Using the compost tumbler, live demonstrations were conducted to create compost, which participants could then take home for their gardens. The project used local news outlets and social media channels to share information, ensuring more community members received the details about composting opportunities. 

OCIFS will apply compost to the white corn fields at Tsyunhehkwa this upcoming growing season, and they are looking forward to seeing its benefits.

Next Steps 

Ver Voort has noticed more community members being interested in and supportive of composting. He is trying to build community support for an institutional composting project to gather compostable materials from Oneida schools, organizations, and businesses. 

“Just like people are beginning to understand that what they eat does affect their health, I believe they will start understanding the huge benefits of composting and the amazing soil that comes from it,” said Ver Voort. “My biggest hope is to get the Institutional Composting Project off the ground.” 

About Farmer Rancher Grants 

NCR-SARE’s Farmer Rancher Grant program starts accepting proposals in mid-August. 

Want more information? See the related SARE grant:

Related Locations: North Central, Wisconsin