Building Food Community: Nisqually Tribal Community Garden Program
Nisqually Tribal Community Gardens, Du Pont
August 25, 2015
The farm walk at Nisqually Tribal Community Garden was the first time Tilth Producers had visited a Tribal farm – and it didn’t disappoint! Over thirty-five farmers and community members gathered at the community garden near Du Pont to hear the stories of the staff involved in maintaining the garden for the larger Nisqually community. The presenting staff included Caitlin Krenn (Community Garden Program Supervisor), Carlin Briner (Production Supervisor), Grace Ann Byrd (Field Tech), and Janell Blacketer (Field Tech). To add to the discussion around tribal food sovereignty, Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project was in attendance to lend her perspectives and share details of her own work.
Carlin began by explaining that what makes the garden special is its stories and not so much the production. With one acre in vegetables, one-third acre in berries, a ‘Little Garden’ containing natives and perennial herbs, and three acres planted with a 100 year old orchard, the garden is a community effort through-and-through. Carlin spoke about how Nisqually Tribe has a long history of community gardens, with this project beginning in 2007. Caitlin and Carlin explained that the design process for the garden came without a big plan or vision – at least in the beginning. The Tribal Council requested that they begin gardening on the site, so they installed raised beds and every year since have expanded and planted crops based on the needs of the community. Carlin shared that informal discussion guides the goals of the garden from year to year, though they recently completed a facilitated community planning to develop a two-year strategic plan. Funding for the garden is provided by the Nisqually Tribe, so they have some flexibility in programming based on the needs of the greater community.
The Nisqually name for the garden means ‘Place to Gather Spirit Power’, an apt title given all the services it provides for the community. The produce grown in the garden is distributed primarily to the elder center as well as a weekly garden stand at the community center. Janell described programs with elders and youth where she shares recipes to make preparation of new vegetables easy and appealing. Grace and Janell also spoke to the use of herbs and collection of wild plants (such as nettle) to create medicines and body care items. The garden also serves as a resource for other community garden projects in the Nisqually Tribe, with the staff helping to answer production questions and sharing plant starts. The community nature of the garden also lends itself to be used by other Tribal programs including substance abuse rehabilitation, seasonal job training, and youth education.
As the garden staff took attendees around the garden, it was apparent the wealth of food and community that this garden provides. They are hoping to expand to a larger piece of acreage down the road so that they can incorporate more rotations into their vegetable production. This also comes from a need to meet the food demands of the Nisqually community.
Summary by Angela Anegon
This Farm Walk is supported in part by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2012-49400-19575. For more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov.