Talk examines American Indian agriculture and food systems

Nov. 20, 2012

by Bob Mitchell

American Indian tribes have plenty of challenges when it comes to food and food systems, says Dan Cornelius, ranging from environmental threats to traditional crops to the difficulties of getting fresh food to remote tribal communities.

But they are also working on some pretty interesting solutions.

Cornelius, a technical assistance specialist with the Intertribal Agricultural Council, will describe some of those ideas during a talk titled "Exploring American Indian Agriculture and Food Systems" on Monday, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St.

Cornelius, one of 13 technical assistance specialists that the IAC employs across the nation, works primarily with tribal producers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Much of his work focuses on helping producers get better access to federal agricultural funding and technical assistance programs.

They've had low participation in such programs in the past, he says.

He says that one of the big challenges facing tribal producers is finding ways to retain more of the value of their agricultural products within tribal communities.

Another has to do with giving them better access to markets and giving tribal communities better access to better quality food.

"One idea we're trying is a mobile farmers market. It's really two things in one — a mini food distribution operation and a mini grocery store. It's a way to work with tribal producers on expanding market access and going into tribal communities to provide access to fresh food," he says.

"Another challenge is dealing with adverse impacts of climate change, exemplified in this region by the impact of this year's extreme weather on wild rice and maple syrup production," he adds.

Cornelius's talk is part of an ongoing series of Culture of Agriculture events presented by the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.