#WyoStrong: Food sovereignty effort aims to provide economic development, healthy food on Wind River Reservation

(Wind River Reservation, WY)– The high rates of diet-related diseases and food insecurities on the Wind River Reservation led to creating the Wind River Food Sovereignty Project (WRFSP).

Since 2019, the WRFSP has hosted weekly farmers’ markets, provided food production grants, and helped facilitate community connections as part of its mission to support the Reservation-based production of fresh, healthy foods to increase both availability and affordability in the community.

Their weekly market is currently held Thursday evenings from 4:30-6:30 pm at the Frank B. Wise Building in Fort Washakie and provides the direct channel between food producer and consumer.

“We’re starting to come across people now that want to get into selling at the farmers’ market where they could make an income,” explained Kelly Pingree, one of the WRFSP’s co-directors. “We have like an 80% unemployment rate here on the Reservation, so it really helps people be a little bit more independent.”

The WRFSP also recognizes the financial burden of producing food. To help offset costs, they seek funding through grants or working with nonprofit economic development organizations such as the Wind River Development Fund to provide funds to producers in need.

Some of their recent disbursements came from the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF), according to Livy Lewis, one of the WRFSP’s co-directors. The monies granted by the NAAF are to support Native farmers and ranchers and comes from a class-action lawsuit against the USDA for discriminatory lending practices.

“We had ten grants for ranchers and 20 for any kind of small-scale producer – gardeners, beekeepers, fishers, harvesters, really anything,” Lewis continued. “We filled these ones right up, but we’re constantly looking for more and hoping to have more funding opportunity soon.”

While both the farmers’ markets and grants are vital in moving the WRFSP mission forward, the community remains at the forefront. They hope to have the community identify what they want their food system to look like and create self-sufficiency. Both Lewis and Pingree noted the increased interest in growing healthier foods and cultural foods such as chokecherries.

Connections and collaborations are priorities, as well as having their work compliment other food sovereignty efforts such as Wind River Grow Our Own 307. They teach gardening basics, among other things, and recently planted groves of chokecherry trees across the Wind River Reservation.

As an example of community collaboration, Pingree shared about having several small producers co-op together to have a more extensive product to sell.

Finding educational and mentor resources is also part of community connections.

“We have some people who want to get started in beekeeping, so we have a honey guy at the farmers’ market who’s willing to work with them,” Lewis shared. “Trying to look at the other expertise in the community and link people up.”

“We’re also trying to help with selling and some marketing. We’re going to work with a graphic designer to help people create a logo or packaging or business cards or start a website, things like that. Just because all of those pieces take a lot of time.”

The WRFSP hopes to expand its resource offerings with dedicated growing land for those who might not have access to any. This effort is still in the early stages, but it hopes to achieve soon.

They also recently began an initiative to encourage young producers to be vendors at the weekly farmers’ market. For just one dollar, they can set up a table to sell their goods. The adult table fee is five dollars.

They also hope to rotate markets in different areas around the Wind River Reservation to continue increasing the options for producers and consumers.

The WRFSP invites the community to help local producers by visiting and purchasing goods at the markets and encouraging those interested in becoming producers to reach out by emailing kelly@c-prep.org or elisabeth@c-prep.org.

Additional information can be found at www.windriverfoodsovereignty.org or on Facebook.

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