Business Profile
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • July 2010

Oneida, ahead of its time

Presently, most people realize our industrial food system is probably killing us. However, on the Oneida Reservation, Tribal leaders recognized in 1994 that food, poverty and health issues on the reservation were related. The group recognized that the impact of repairing the food system could have far reaching effects, so the Oneida Community Integrated Food System (OCIFS) task force was established. This group consists of Oneida Nation Farm and Apple Orchard, the Tsyunhehkwa Center, Health Promotions and Oneida Food Distribution Program.

The Oneida Farm operates a cattle and bison operation with 400 Black Angus steers, 150 grazed cow/calf operation and 145 buffalo. The Apple Orchard has 34 acres with over 35 varieties available. There is also a wide variety of fresh produce, including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, sweetcorn, squash and pumpkins. In addition to their own locally grown products the Orchard also has the Oneida Nation Farm’s black angus beef and buffalo cuts, Wisconsin wild rice, Wisconsin maple syrup and various apple products.

Tsyunhehkwa (joon-hey-qwa) is a culturally and community-based agricultural program that consists of three components: agricultural, cannery and retail. The agricultural component is located on a Certified Organic 80-acre site, which provides grass-fed beef, free range poultry, farm fresh eggs and organic produce. The cannery processes Oneida products as well as community products. The retail store sells both Oneida-based products as well as items that are obtained from outside vendors. They assist customers with product selection and provide information on traditional uses of herbs and essential oils, research healthcare topics, and initiate new product development.

The health promotions group provides dietary and wellness coaching and consulting services. And, the final component of OCIFS, the food distribution program, provides monthly food packages to low-income households and elderly individuals.

OCIFS worked to integrate local food and resources into a related system in order to provide members of the community with more wholesome food options and to educate people about how their diets impact health. Additional benefits include increased employment alternatives, youth opportunities and camaraderie. Successes include the establishment of the Oneida Farmers Market, which in its eight years has grown from a 3-vendor market to a market that averaged 29 vendors in 2009. The Oneida Falling Leaves 4-H club is in its seventh year. Oneida youth have gone on field trips, made gifts for nursing home residents, established a 1-acre garden and supplied Oneida white corn to Growing Power (http://www.growingpower.org) in Milwaukee.

The OCIFS Cultural Activity Book was intended to create a fun format that allows 0–6 grade youth to learn about OCIFS, agriculture, health, exercise and the cultural significance of food. Through the activity book, youth learn about what Oneida presently offers the community. By increasing awareness of the Oneida Nation food system and the relationship of the component pieces to each other, Oneida youth learn that food does not really come from the shelves of stores but rather from their Oneida neighbors and other farmers in the area. On a personal level, Oneida youth learn the connection between their own health and the types of food they put into their bodies.

Currently, OCIFS is working to establish a Food Policy Council in Oneida. Goals for such a council might include building capacity, self sufficiency and local food security. What’s next for OCIFS? Future goals include bringing fresh and healthy foods to schools, reducing dependence on outside food supplies, reduced energy usage, increased employment, strengthening local communities by diversifying economies, and providing opportunities for youth to connect with the land. For information about the OCIFS healthy products and services, please visit us at http://www.oneidanation.org/ocifs or call Bill at (920) 869-4530.

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