The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has a rich heritage in food production, but an increased reliance on processed foods has left them susceptible to America's obesity epidemic. One way to battle this problem is to increase the availability of locally grown, healthy food choices, and the Red Cliff Mino Bi Ma De Se Win (Return to the Good Life) Community Farm is tackling the problem head-on.
AmeriCorps VISTA Carl Butterfield, Red Cliff's Agricultural Developer, has been working on the project with two other VISTA members to provide fresh food for the tribe and ensure the sustainability of the farm. The food grown in its gardens have a wide-ranging impact – reaching everyone from children in the Early Childhood Center to the Bayfield Public School to the reservation's senior program and the community at large.
A Challenging Environment
The Red Cliff Band mostly live along a 14-mile span of land that traces the shores bordering Lake Superior in Wisconsin. The tribe's 1,367 members have limited access to healthy food due to issues of proximity (the nearest grocery store is 30 miles away), limited financial resources, and a shortened growing season. These factors have left many there at risk for obesity and related diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
The tribe purchased the farm eight years ago, and VISTAs have been on the project for about six years. The plan is to strengthen the capacity of the farm that will serve 40 percent of the tribal community. In the short term, the farm will help the tribe provide its own produce; in the long term the gardens may provide a new revenue source.
To make the most of the growing season, the farm utilizes greenhouses and traditional hoop houses to give seedlings a more hospitable environment before they are transplanted to the garden in June. Butterfield says classes from the Early Childhood Center and Bayfield School participate in the planting process and enjoy picking apples in an adjacent orchard.
“It's a teaching tool that gets them involved in the growing process,” Butterfield said. The hope is that the early introduction to the farm will influence their habits and choices as they become adults.
Butterfield became a VISTA three years ago and even though his term ends later this year, his involvement won't end any time soon.
“I'll be involved with this farm for the rest of my life,” he said.
Success Stories are Growing
To mark the first anniversary of Lets Move! in Indian Country, the White House is hosting several leaders with stories about how they have helped Native American communities live healthier lifestyles to reduce the occurrence of obesity, especially in children.
The initiative, led by First Lady Michelle Obama, focuses on four areas that will foster a healthy future for the Native American population:
• Creating a healthy start on life
• Developing healthy learning communities
• Fostering healthy, comprehensive food systems policies
• Increasing opportunities for physical activity
Butterfield will participate in the White House panel discussion on June 1, 2012, at 1:30 p.m. Eastern that will highlight his project and others that can be replicated across Indian Country. To watch a live stream of the panel, go to www.whitehouse.gov/live.