Date: August 2, 2019
Interviewer: Meghan Jernigan, Headwater People
Interviewee: John Berrey (Quapaw Nation), Chairman
Quick Stats about the Quapaw Nation Food and Agriculture Program:
The Quapaw Nation has about 4,900 members located in Northeast Oklahoma.
A high priority of the Tribe is addressing food insecurity in their own and neighboring communities. Their range of programs include direct food security work like Meals on Wheels and providing healthy protein for children in public schools. Quapaw nation also have a hybrid farmers market that supplies food to low income families at a bulk rate and regularly donate and fill approximately 12 or 13 food pantries every six months with about 40 tons of canned food.
The Quapaw Nation also has a very rigorous agriculture program. They are the only tribe in the United States with a USDA inspected beef and bison processing plant. In addition to a large cattle herd and bison herd they care for 5,000 acres of row crops that are grown for both the commodity market and for a feeding program for their own livestock.
The Quapaw Nation has studied food insecurity in the area. A large percentage of the population in the Tribe’s area are dealing with food insecurity. According to data released by the US Department of Agriculture, Oklahoma is one of the five states with the highest experiences of food insecurity. Between 2015 and 2017, 15% of the population were experiencing food insecurity, and 6.4% were experiencing very low food security*.
Strengths, Keys for Success:
There remains a collective memory of extensive and prolonged suffering within the tribe and the tribe has a deep understanding of how trauma and resulting mental health issues can impact food security. The Quapaw people identify as a generous, caring people with the responsibility of feeding people in the area regardless if they’re a tribal member or not, that national character and responsibility to act, strengthens the community.
The tribal government has been very effective and works well together. They’ve identified the need, did an economic analysis and committed to work hard, spend their own money, and write grants to address the need.
The farmer’s market is a hybrid of sorts in that the Tribe uses a grant to purchase local perishable foods that people typically include in their diet, package them and sell them to people with low-incomes at cost. Local farmers are included like other farmer market outlets, but the Tribe’s emphasis on food security and food needs is the priority of focus.
The Tribe also has a full-time grant office with a very talented and prolific grant writer. Two employees currently manage about 26 million dollars of the grants. It’s a lot of work, and necessary to do this kind of work when you don’t have the capital up-front.
The Tribe’s does a lot to expose young people to their agricultural operations, including economic aspects. They work with Americorps VISTA, the Indian Ag Youth Program, The University of Arkansas and University of Iowa to share about aspects of food sovereignty.
In addition to the acreage of row crops, the Tribe built four greenhouses in 2013 and have since added multiple outside gardens, including a community garden at the elders’ center. Each one of them has a little different focus on the garden and what the products are used for.
Through a great relationship with the National Resource Conservation Service the Tribe has worked with a program called Hoop House Grants to build 3 additional greenhouses to diversify the operation beyond growing plants in boxes or beds or pots. They’re looking at different opportunities to grow in the hydroponic world and see how those operations might fit for what they do and how they do it.
The Tribe also has a large honeybee operation, a large coffee roastery, and make their own beer for their casino.
Barriers and Challenges:
They are tackling as many issues of child care, elder care, food sovereignty and food insecurity as they can. They have a lot of people that help along the way, but the amount of need that's out there is tremendous.
Continuing to successfully secure the grants to keep the work viable is a challenge.
Climate change is definitely and issue. Last fall they were unable to plant some wheat due to weather. They only got about 60% of our wheat in last fall. And that transferred into the spring as well. The spring was so wet, they were unable to get some of our corn planted.
Some years we fight the droughts. The Tribe is doing some climate change research and figure out how to adapt their systems to fit the change in our nation.
I think the biggest challenge is we always feel like well we're trying to help people with their food insecurities that we don't have enough resources, because it's overwhelming.
Each unit of operations are different.
The cattle company sells beef to other tribal businesses and has vertical integration within the Tribe.
The greenhouses started with the Tribe’s own cash and have since partnered with NRCS. EPA grants have helped to seed the community gardens. A First Nations Institute grant started the Farmer’s Market. A HUD grant started the processing plant facility.
A lot of the work has been self-funded by the Tribe. The coffee facility, the honey operation, and the cattle operation are all self-funded. Most of the bison operation is self-funded as well with some help from the InterTribal Bison Council
Insights for others:
Having a plan and knowing where your market is, is super important. And I think those funders operate very similarly. They're typically focused on a group or an in youth that they're trying to help and match people up. We stay closely connected to the Business, Food and Agriculture group and the Indian Ag Council, they are phenomenal at connecting the dots for funders that have money and people that have projects that they're trying to implement.
*USDA, Economic Research Service, using data from the December 2015, 2016 and 2017 Current Population Survey Food Security Supplements.