Hello my name is Lance Owyhee, I am from the Duck Valley Indian Reservation where I am enrolled. I am from the Newe (Western Shoshone), Numu (Northern Paiute) and Diné (Navajo) people. I am a current junior at the University of Nevada, Reno where I am studying Forest Ecology/Management and Wildlife Ecology/Conservation and minoring in Indigenous Studies. I am the Pack Partnership Food Sovereignty Intern at the Desert Farming Initiative this year.
The Food Sovereignty Project at DFI began in late 2021 - initiated by Indigenous students and supported by UNR Extension. Chauntelle Murphy, the first project intern, did initial research and helped establish the plantings we have now. I volunteered with Chauntelle in the Spring 2022 to get the plants we are interested in started. These plants include both varieties of cultural interest from the region as well as ancient annual fruits and vegetables from the Southwest. The regional plants I am most interested in are the elderberries, desert peach and indian tea because I am most familiar with them and they have shown lots of growth progress. I am interested in the other plants as well but I still have lots of learning to do to understand them culturally. We received the annual seeds from Native Seeds Search with assistance from Augustin Jorquez and the Intergenerational Community Garden program.
In Summer, I was offered an internship by the Intertribal Agriculture Council to start working for the program and at the same time I was working under Geoffrey Smith a professor in the Anthropology Department for 6 weeks in Central Oregon. There I received more resources from the Burns Paiute Tribe and some paleoethnobotanists who were present. In the heat of summer I was working hard to keep the plants at DFI weeded thoroughly and also tracked their growth. At the end of my internship with IAC, I created a film about my experience and was also able to visit a local Natural Resources Conservation Service office to discuss work within the office, specifically the rangeland office. After my internship ended with IAC, I still was able to stay on at DFI with support from a UNR Foundation Pack Partnership Grant. I continued what we started and am now planning for future work along with our new hire Tessa Smartt. Tessa is from the Mcdermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe and a current student here, working on this project with support from UNR Extension. She has helped so much more by aiding in the plans for events, doing intensive weed management, and working with me to save seeds.
The opportunity arose to expand the project in the beginning of the Fall semester: I was able to get into contact with the local native community at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC). Stacey Burns from RSIC language and culture department helped us with our plans, along with providing teachings, lots of manual work and just good company. That sparked more projects and events. Our first event was a small field trip where we went out and gathered chokecherries at the end of their season, which we would use at another time. Working in this program has also given me a chance to let my voice be heard as well as implement cultural practices. Other things I have done in this project include things such as attending different panels to speak about my opinion on the project (such as a panel on Food Security and Racial Justice in September hosted by the Gender, Race and Identity Program at UNR), being interviewed by Edible Reno Tahoe, and creating various events for students and community members. It has been a great experience so far and there is just so much to do.
My favorite thing we have done in this project is the feast which we had on October 18th. We were able to invite students and those who have helped us along the project as guests and also as participants. A crucial part of this event was to serve indigenous foods, including from the plants we have gathered. We also offered times during this event where we invited students and people to come and learn how to prepare these foods traditionally with a modern twist. There was chokecherry pudding, deer roast, pine nut soup, Indian tea, and many other foods that were shared. It took a lot of work especially the pine nut soup that took an entire day to prepare for the cooking on Sunday before the event on the 18th. Stacey Burns, along with her crew and elders such as Gracie Dick and Dean Barlese, helped us a good amount to make sure all the food was prepared well and also taught us the cultural significance of the traditional foods we made.
It was a busy couple of days which included drying chokecherry patties, roasting pine nuts over a fire, and making fry bread for 50+ people, but among all of that work was good laughs and community. With all that accounted for, the event ran smoothly, guests were able to tour our planting areas, check out past accomplishments, give thanks to all those who helped prepare the food and also view my film as they all ate. We plan in the future to have more events just like this where we are able to harvest and share the foods and knowledge we have learned.
Hi! My name is Tessa Smartt, a second year student at the University of Nevada, Reno and a student worker here at the Desert Farming Initiative. I’ve been working as an intern with the Food Sovereignty Project since September 2022.
This project has provided so many learning opportunities and I enjoy coming into work more often than I do going to class! So far we have accomplished quite a bit of things since our last update (above).
Once we finished our Paba Tuka event it was straight back to business. We had gotten word about the Nevada Department of Agriculture awarding seeds to farms with the intent to provide more access to restorative species and their seed (Foundation Seed Program). Of course we took interest, applied, and were given 3 different species: Yellow Beeplant, Sulphur Flower Buckwheat, and Sandberg Bluegrass. Those were all planted in the 2nd week of December so stay tuned for progress updates!
More recently Lance and I have just started a new chapter in our project. We are gathering cuttings from other species native to the Sierras and Great Basin region. These include plants like chokecherries, buckberries, golden currants, desert peaches, and elderberries. We are learning about different ways to treat the roots to ensure the cutting survives in the ground and are going to use different treatments like a chemical rooting hormone, willow tea, and honey mixed with cinnamon. Come spring time we’ll be able to see which of them works best.
We are also looking forward to the future endeavors of our project. We wish to hold another event like Paba Tuka and as always we welcome anyone wanting to get involved with Food Sovereignty to come check out DFI!
We have some plans that we want to execute for the spring semester as well as the rest of fall semester. Some events will be open to the community and some will be kept under wraps to protect cultural areas and practices. There are some more plants we would like to work with and also figure out how they were used culturally from our elders. There is still so much more to learn and do in this project, it is crazy to see how fast and expansive it has become since the beginning of the year.
Even though you look outside and see nothing but snow and ice, we are still working with our plants. During this winter season we are inside working on cleaning seeds from annual crops that we grew this past season (along with some native chokecherry seeds). The Native Seed Search, a nonprofit seed conservation organization based in the Southwest that conserves and promotes culturally significant crops of Southwestern Indigenous cultures, provided all of our annual crop seeds last year.
We were able to grow these crops in the summer and maintain them through the fall. Plants that we grew at the farm were Yuman Yellow Corn, Yoeme Basil, Paiute Amaranth, Mountain Pima Sorghum, and many others. Shannon Swim, native plant ecologist, is aiding us with cleaning the seeds that we saved from last years crops. She has instructed us on how to use sieves and a continuous seed blower. We had a chance to see how the seed cleaning machine works, how effective it is, and how often to use sieves. Once we get these seeds cleaned they will be sent back to the Native Seed Search to support the ongoing seed-saving program.
We here at the Food Sovereignty team are wondering when the warm weather will come around. While we wait patiently for sunshine and the sprouting of seeds from the Nevada Department of Agriculture's Foundation Seed Program, we’ve had plenty of things to keep us preoccupied. Below is what the blue grass looked like when it germinated!
In addition to our partnership with the Nevada Department of Agriculture, we’ve recently started propagating new seeds from the Native Seed Search. This is a nonprofit seed conservation organization that we’ve successfully grown with before. New crops this season will be Poblano Chiles, Casados Multicolor Corn, Sugar Ann Snap Peas, and O'odham Ke:li Ba:so, a melon, whose name translates to “old man’s chest” in O’odham. Last fall we collected seeds from Paiute Pinto Beans, Dineh Bi Danescone (a type of cantaloupe from Navajo lands), Sorghum, and Mayo/Yeome Basil, and we are replanting those this season.
We are looking forward to warmer weather so that way we can get back outside and get more things into the ground! And as always we would love to have more input and help from the community. We currently have an ongoing volunteer list so if interested please email us at: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been a busy month for us here at DFI, we held a tour event sponsored by Star Village Coffee, attended a Tribal Food Summit at Lake Tahoe, had a booth at Field Day and started preparing our plants for the summer season.
On May 5th we held a tour here at DFI, where we gave a presentation of what we have accomplished in our first year, followed by a tour of our project area. Thankfully we were also sponsored by Star Village Coffee, an indigenous owned local coffee shop, where we were supplied with tea made from the yaupon holly plant.
We also attended the Tribal Food Summit hosted at the UNR campus in Lake Tahoe from May 31st to June 2nd. We presented all that we have done here at DFI to members of tribal communities throughout Nevada. In turn we received positive feedback and comments about our work and possible collaborations in the future. We even got to join in at the indigenous foods potluck where we made chokecherry pudding, truly an experience to have.
One of the last events we attended was Field Day held around DFI and the Experiment Station. Here we had a booth with tons of information, pictures and plants! We were so grateful to talk to all of the attendees that visited our booth and engaged in meaningful conversations about food sovereignty and native plants.
Besides all of the events we have attended in this short month we also began to become active with our plant management for the summer. We created different watering strategies for our plants which include our drip irrigation, hand watering and the use of ollas. Being this diverse with our watering strategies will make sure that our plant babies are being watered with efficiency. We also moved our southwestern plant babies from the greenhouse to our garden beds for transplanting. You may have even seen them hanging out in the beds during Field Day. While a lot of our great basin plants have seemed to not come back this season we will be prepared next on how to properly care for them. Such as careful incubation like what our chokecherry babies are going through right now. All is a trial and error and with our new network we created we are sure to have success in the future and complete all goals we have in mind.
I also just want to mention what a great year it has been for this program. We learned a lot and are very thankful for all the people we met and helped us in our cause. It truly means the world to me that people want to help aid in the advancement of Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Knowledge. I know now after experiencing this full year that we have lots of work to do yet but I will do my best with this program.
DFI is grateful for support from the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation that makes this important work possible. A 2022/2023 Pack Partnership Grant includes funding for this internship and other Innovative Student Employment at the Desert Farming Initiative.
Owyhee, L., Smartt, T., 2022, Pesa Natumusuano'o Year (A Good Growing Year)
, Desert Farming Initiative - University of Nevada, Reno
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