Unlocking a Diverse Food Future: Community Self-Reliance and Social Justice as Drivers of Change
Euneika Rogers-Sipp for SCALE consulting team, April 2022
In this blog, the first of a series, I will highlight community-based organizations in Western New York that are creating and expanding innovative models of care - beginning new efforts and nurturing long-standing food sovereignty initiatives that are committed to improve health equity and support transformative system-level change.
The Food Future WNY Initiative is learning that forming the right partnerships with these community-based actors will address many of the underlying issues impacting our ability to effectively respond to local community needs for healthy food. Partnerships working at the intersection of farm enterprise, public health policy and racial justice aim to build a solid foundation for the future of food systems, thereby providing opportunities for mutual healing.
The Native Farm Bill Coalition meets at Gakwi:yo:h Farms in Cattaraugus County, April 12, 2022. Territories represented: Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Seneca, Allegany, Seneca Cattaraugus, Tonawanda Band of Seneca, Tuscarora, Ganondagan, Cayuga, Onondaga, Akewesasne Mohawk, Kahnawake Mohawk, Eastern Band of Cherokee North Carolina. Photo by Mike Snyder.
An affirming, growing life force is generated by partnering with the Seneca people. Among the growing field of food system actors, who center Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), in this potential accord is held in the greatest respect. As recently as 20 years ago, the Seneca experienced systematic destruction of their agricultural traditions, from how they butchered their animals to how they sowed, harvested, and distributed their crops. According to Mike Snyder, Director of the Seneca Nation Agriculture Department and Manager of Gakwi:yo:h Farms (good food in Seneca), a Seneca Nation farming enterprise, did not exist because in an ecosystem of traditional foods and medicinal practices farming was irrelevant in that iteration of Western New York’s food system culture.
Gakwi:yo:h Farms addresses food security and food sovereignty through community engagement and wellness by implementing a “Haudenosaunee” (pronounced Ho· de·no·sau·nee·ga) approach to agricultural practices. Commonly referred to as Iroquois of Six Nations, the goal is to produce healthy food, use quality food processing procedures and make these foods available to Seneca community members, from field to table. The foundation of the mission rests on the ability to positively impact the Seneca people, contribute to a conscious shift toward healthier eating habits, and change the way food is brought into homes.
As an agriculture initiative, Gakwi:yo:h Farms reconnects the philosophy of their Seneca ancestors and commits to promote the relationship between the people, their lands, and the foods they eat. Just as the Seneca people have always understood and respected the value of their traditional foods, they acknowledge the value placed on healthy food, especially white corn which is an inherent part of the Seneca culture. Gakwi:yo:h Farms is thriving, developed in the ways of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is indigenous to the exact location it stands today.
Three phases of Community Food Sovereignty: Plans and Action in Place
The Access, Equity, and Food Sovereignty (AES) Work Group explores and embraces the transformative potential, opportunities, and wide-ranging benefits that food sovereignty and other justice-based frameworks offer. Frameworks that can benefit people living and working in rural and urban areas. We are inspired by the movement of Senecas to re-establish and control their traditional food systems while diversifying into markets, production modes, cultures, and environments. Although the Seneca are not completely food sovereign today, they are well on their way to a culturally-specific system rooted in their origins. Their self-sufficiency model facilitates direct links between indigenous farming practices and a community's social and economic development.
To learn more, get involved or find contact information please visit the WNY Regional Food System Initiative website.