Dream of Wild Health
- Connect Native people with indigenous food and medicine
- Steward a seed collection of over 300 varieties
- Seed collection donated to Dream of Wild Health by Cora Baker, a Native American elder
Dream of Wild Health was established in 1998 as a transitional home for recovering addicts from Native American backgrounds. Its first site was called Peta Wakan Tipi (or Sacred Fire Lodge) and was based in St Paul, Minnesota. The founders saw the need for their clients to reconnect with nature and to the food of their ancestors to help their recovery process; they established a small farm and medicine garden and began growing indigenous crops.
In 2000, they received a generous donation of seeds from a Potawatomi elder, Cora Baker, before she passed away. Cora had been a Keeper of Seeds in her community throughout her life, and had accumulated a collection of over 300 indigenous crops, including many different varieties of corn, beans and squash.
By 2005, the organisation had outgrown its first small medicine garden, and was able to buy a 10-acre farm in Hugo, several miles outside St Paul. Here, they offer educational programmes in agriculture and nutrition for the Native American community, as well as growing and saving seeds from Cora Baker’s precious seed collection.
Sacred tobacco leaves hanging to dry at Dream of Wild Health’s farm in Hugo, Minnesota
How it works
Dream of Wild Health run a CSA-scheme on their farm in Hugo, Minnesota. Native America children visit the farm throughout the summer months to contribute to the running of the CSA, participate in hands-on activities, and to learn about healthy eating and indigenous culture. The farm specialises in growing indigenous varieties, and plants that are important to Native American culture. Sacred crops used for ceremonial purposes such as tobacco, sage and sweet grass are also grown there.
Many of the seeds for the CSA come from Cora Baker’s seed collection, in particular, squash, tomatoes and beans. The collection contains some familiar native varieties such as Hidatsa Shield Figure bean and Hopi Black Turtle bean as well as some which very little in known about. Many of the seeds in the collection were knotted in the traditional manner in bandanas or handkerchiefs, and some were unlabelled. The farm endeavours to systematically grow out all of the donated seeds to try and identify varieties, to evaluate them and to keep them alive. They have also been working with Native American elders to try and trace the history of some of the more unusual varieties.
Hidatsa Shield Figure beans and Hopi Black Turtle beans
Dream of Wild Health is part of the Indigenous Seed Keepers Alliance, a network of farmers who honour Native American traditions. They are working together to share seed saving skills and build capacity within their community to steward the seeds that form such an important part of their cultural heritage. For example, in 2015, farm manager Heather is training a nearby farmer to hand-pollinate and collect seed from Dakota Yellow Flour Corn. By training modern-day Seed Keepers to continue the traditions of the past, the Alliance aims to support the creation of local seed collections, thereby helping to secure their seeds for the future: a variety which is grown by different farmers across the country is much safer than one which is only kept by one person.
Dakota Yellow Flour Corn drying in the wind: the paper bags mark the cobs that have been hand-pollinated
At the heart of the work of Dream of Wild Health and the Seed Keepers Alliance, is a deep appreciation of the role that seeds have played not only in keeping the memory of their ancestors alive but also in contributing to their survival. Centuries of persecution and the genocide of millions of Native Americans, makes the preservation of these seeds all the more urgent and emotionally-charged. There is a persistent and deeply-felt concern amongst Native American farmers that their ancestral varieties should not fall in to the wrong hands; there is fear that the ownership of unique varieties will be claimed by government bodies and powerful corporations, and will be taken from the native people whose right it is to keep them.
As a result Dream of Wild Health’s seed collection is closely guarded and seeds are not generally shared with members of the public. Instead, they provide opportunities for visitors to eat meals prepared with their native varieties. Youth participants always cook and share a meal of fresh produce as part of their experience at the farm, and CSA members often take home native varieties as part of their weekly collection. Connecting organic farming practises with the preparation of healthy and nutritious meals, is a lesson that is particularly pertinent amongst the Native American community, where obesity and diabetes are disproportionately common. Many of the native varieties, particularly the corn crops, have a much greater nutritional value than modern cultivars that have taken over native diets. By educating people about the cultural and nutritional value of these crops, they are simultaneously encouraging them to improve their health, connect with their cultural heritage, and reclaim the power to shape their future.
More info: www.dreamofwildhealth.org