Thank you to Carol Benfell, special reporter to Sonoma West news, for shedding light on the beautiful field of growth in Graton, CA — where The Cultural Conservancy, lead by CEO Melissa Nelson, will develop a center for food sovereignty and community: “a Native place of refuge and learning”. Click here for the full article. And to learn more about the Conservancy, visit www.nativeland.org. For the highlights, read on:
“The Conservancy has focused on ‘returning native lands to native hands’ and restoring cultural eco-knowledge and traditions around the globe.
The group’s many projects include sponsoring the first Native American Land Trust in Maui; historic recordings of the Salt Songs of the Southern Paiute; recording Tibetan elders from India; and supporting the Apache Survival Coalition to protect sacred sites on Mt. Graham, Arizona.
More recently, The Conservancy has focused on the native peoples of California and “food sovereignty,” a movement arising in the 1990s that focuses on people’s right to raise culturally appropriate food, using ecologically sound and sustainable methods.
The food sovereignty movement is a part of the larger food movement that, for the last several decades, has seen young people moving back to the land in Sonoma County, raising organic crops with sustainable farming and selling them to the local community at farmers’ markets or through subscription.
The food grown on the farm will be distributed to local tribes — Miwok, Pomo and Wappo — and intertribally to Native Americans living in the Bay Area. The surplus will be sold to restaurants or at farmers’ markets.” October, 2019
Despite the resounding silence on the matter in mass media, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline continues at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Hundreds of protesters, many of them Native Americans and very notably including members of the Souix Nation whose tribal water rights are threatened by the pipeline, are camped out at the Sacred Stones Camp in North Dakota. (Their website, by the way, is wonderfully rich in resources, well-designed, and easy to navigate.)
For those of you who like to receive your news audibly, this week’s CounterSpin gives a concise run-down of the protest and then features an incredible interview with Native activist and organizer, Kandi Mosset. Mosset provides a rich historical context of the tribes who live and lived along the Missouri River and compelling arguments for why we collectively need to come together to see “the false power associated with money” and protect the water, the animals, and the people who rely on it.
These activists are on the frontlines of climate justice and put themselves on the line to protect our water commons. They ask that if you can join them at the camp, do. If you cannot go, donate to their legal defense fund. If you ain’t got the money, consider sending some supplies. They’re asking for everything from folding tables to herbal teas, and there’s a lot on the list that might be gathering dust on a shelf in the back of a barn somewhere.
“Putting stinging nettle balls in the oven,” Russ Cohen announces to me proudly when I can’t guess what he’s doing in the moment that I call. Amid the flutter of taking interview requests and preparing for a conference later in the evening, he is putting the finishing touches on his wild-fitted version of a 1950’s-era recipe. He’ll serve it as part of his presentation. Swapping frozen nettles collected last summer in for the traditional spinach, he’s doing what he loves: “nibbling on nature”– and then sharing it with people.
In the following interview excerpts we discuss the rad new seed bank in his second refrigerator, what native plants can do for organic farmers, the wonders of the mighty shagbark hickory, and the danger of commercializing wild plants. Anyone interested in learning more about Russ or contacting him for seeds can do so here.
GH: Can you briefly describe yourself and your work for our readers? Let’s start with the work you’ve been doing.
I have been teaching folks about how to connect to the land through their taste buds— to nibble on nature— since I was a senior in high school in 1974. So that’s over 40 years ago. I do about 40 programs a year all over New England and upstate New York, most of which are just walking around with folks in the woods and fields, looking at wild plants and mushrooms, and talking about what’s edible— you know, explain how to identify it, what it tastes like, how to prepare it, if the Native Americans ate it, what kind of vitamins it has, whether it’s a weed or invasive, native or non-native, the impact of picking, and all that stuff.
GH: And what are you transitioning into?
RC: I am going to keep doing that, but what I am doing in addition to that is that I am aspiring to be a “Johnny Appleseed” of sorts for native edible species and plant more of them in the landscape, so that there’s more for more for everyone to benefit from, for people, for wildlife, the plants and the birds, pollinators, for everyone to benefit. So I have been gathering the seeds and nuts from native species.
I actually have a new fridge in my basement that’s filled with the nuts and seeds of native species.
As it turns out, most of them need to go through “stratification” (exposure to cold) before they’ll germinate, so the fridge is a good place to store them.
GH: Well that’s awesome. What exactly are you hoping to do with these seeds?
RC: I have been distributing them to native plant propagators and people I know who want to grow more native plants. I am actually going to be contract-growing a lot of stuff. So I’ve been contacting plant nurseries, giving them a bunch of seeds, and say “OK, turn these into plants for me”, and then I’ll buy the plants back to distribute to organizations to grow out on their properties. I am giving these plants away. I am not charging anyone for anything.
GH: A good portion of our blog readership are organic farmers. Do you see native plants playing a larger role in their work?
RC: Yes, at least where opportunities exist to grow native species in or around organic farms. Native edible species benefit birds, pollinators and other wildlife as well as offer food harvesting opportunities for people. This is a better alternative than collecting these species from natural habitats, where, unfortunately, I have been distressed to see damage to wild plant populations caused by commercially-driven harvesting.
Join us for the Native Youth in Agriculture Summit and become a part of the next generation of food and agriculture leaders throughout Indian Country. Fifty selected students will travel to Fayetteville to participate in a week long education and leadership summit designed to provide comprehensive training in the legal and business complexities unique to Indian Country land and agriculture.
Students will engage in classroom and leadership learning, participate in cultural activities, and receive specialized legal and land use education appropriate only to Native farmers and ranchers. All food, lodging, and instructional materials will be provided. Competitive travel scholarships to the University are available.
Deadline for application materials: May 15, 2014 (begin submitting your application now so that your space can be held). For more information, click HERE