CLOQUET, Minn. — The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s food sovereignty efforts accelerated in the last year, with its 36-acre farm in Cloquet getting several new additions to help bolster people’s capacity to grow their own food.
Public funding, largely Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money, allowed the band to scale up its efforts, which included building a large kitchen, cannery, root cellar, game-processing garage, seed-storing room and growing dome at the band’s Gitigaan, or garden, site in Cloquet.
Though funding has allowed the band to invest more in food sovereignty, recently Gitigaaning staff and gardener Kaitlyn Walsh said it’s a multigenerations-old way of life.
“We’ve always had food sovereignty before we called it that. Our ancestors have been doing this for thousands of years,” Walsh said. “Ojibwe matriarchs are the ones who led the food system precolonization. We grew massive amounts of food for ourselves, and even the settlers as they came. It’s really getting back to that legacy that we inherit in our DNA.”
Nearly 100 people gathered at Gitigaaning over the weekend for the first big event hosted out of the new facility. As people toured the farm and facility, chefs Vern DeFoe and Randy Cornelius prepared a meal full of fresh produce harvested from the many plots on site. Servers rushed out plates of watermelon salad, squash medley and wild rice pilaf.
Delilah Savage, of Baby Cakes Wild Rice Bakery/Savage Girls Salad, handed out wild rice cupcakes with maple-syrup frosting. The diners applauded Savage after she said her family harvested both the wild rice and maple syrup used in the cupcakes.
The multipurpose facility provides space for growers to process, wash, can and store their produce. It also opens the door for people to start their own food business or expand on existing food businesses, Walsh said. The band recently hired a cannery supervisor to build out more programming.
A geodesic dome, or a dome-shaped greenhouse, was built on the site last fall. Tomatoes, broccoli, kale and carrots are among the plants flourishing from the raised beds inside the dome. The plants produce between 20 and 50 pounds of produce each week for the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School.
Last week Walsh said she harvested 70 pounds for the Fond du Lac Head Start program.
After the band purchased the 36-acre farm on Cary Road in 2017, a producer training program was developed on site. This year about 20 people have quarter-acre plots in a 4-acre section plowed for growing food at Gitigaaning.
Arianna Northbird shares a plot with her close friend, Alexandera Houchin. It was their first year growing food.
“I think about our migration story and how the Ojibwe came here from the coast and brought seeds with them and grew food, too,” Northbird said. “I feel like it’s kind of like a connection for me. It was a place for healing. We were like this is our baby, our healing spot, somewhere we can go and take in what we’re doing and give back. It’s a reciprocal relationship.”
Alex Kmett, of Cloquet, started growing food this year on his Gitigaaning plot. Many of his plants grew from seeds he collected in native-seed-trade networks.
“It’s so beautiful and well-crafted,” producer Deb Smith, of Duluth, said of Kmett’s plot. “You just want to sit in there and have a cup of coffee.”
“This program really enabled me,” Kmett said. “I never thought I’d be a landowner. Having access is really something.”
Walsh, the Gitigaaning, tends to her own nook of plants at the farm when she’s not managing the rest of the farm. She moved to the area last year to be part of the producer program and to learn her ancestors’ food ways. She wasn’t sure where she’d live or work. She only knew she wanted to learn to grow food.
But a spot for the position she currently holds opened up and now she’s running the Gitigaan Program, or gardening education program, her great-uncle started 25 years ago.
“Everything kind of clicked and came together perfectly so that I could be here with grandma and be here on our land,” Walsh said. “It’s such a gift to be here with her and learn our food ways.”
Walsh’s grandmother used to pick chamomile herbs with her grandmother first thing in the morning for tea. Now Walsh’s grandma often joins her in her garden where she’s tending to her own nests of tea herbs.