Food Sovereignty Initiative at Osage Nation Continues to Grow and Improve

Published August 19, 2018

PAWHUSKA, Okla.  — Five years ago, land already owned by the Osage Nation was revealed during an audit of ON assets. Today, this land is a seed for change and Osage and Native American elders and children on the Osage Reservation are already reaping the benefits.

Soon after the land was discovered, plans for a serious food sovereignty initiative began and soon after that Bird Creek Farms (BCF) was established. According to the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods.”

The first round of crops in 2015 was unsuccessful due to lack of knowledge about the land and its current tiny inhabitants. But, volunteers, AmeriCorps workers and Osage Nation employees remained diligent and worked hard to improve on past failures and lessons learned.

Then, things started to grow.

“Last year, [BCF] delivered more than a thousand pounds of produce to elder and children’s programs and 2,592 lbs., or 144 pumpkins, were delivered to Osage schools,” said Jason George (Osage), BCF Director.

More than a farm
This year (with four more months to go), BCF has already passed the two-thousand-pound mark for fresh produce delivered to the Osage Nation Elder Nutrition programs in Pawhuska and Fairfax, the Head Starts in Pawhuska and Skiatook, the WahZhaZhe Early Learning Academies (WELA) in Skiatook and Pawhuska, and the Osage language immersion school, Daposka Ahnkodahpi, also in Pawhuska. In addition to growing and delivering supplemental farm fresh produce in a recognized food desert, over the last two years BCF has generously provided firewood for traditional Osage meals, events, and gatherings. And, also in that time a total of 253 lbs. of fresh produce was donated to all three Osage traditional communities or districts and the annual Osage Nation Cultural Walk.

The farm has also served as an outdoor classroom for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) hands-on learning for Osage schools and programs. The activities were developed by BCF staff and other departments in the Osage Nation with professionals in the STEAM career fields. The Osage Nation Education Department was also key in coordinating efforts and bringing in professionals in the Osage Nation workforce.

Bird Creek Farms today and Aquaponics
Looking around the farm today you wouldn’t recognize it from its former state of disarray. It’s serene, well kept, a testament to the dedication of the hands that work there. Decades of trash dumping have been removed, there is a gravel road leading to the small part being farmed (just three-acres of the total 35-acres) there are three hoop houses for growing year-round, a large section of land is resting neatly with a cover crop, there are a few beehives in secluded areas, walking paths by a creek, some trees have been cleared, and now thriving indigenous trees have been marked to keep.

More recently, the Osage Nation moved an office trailer to the farm as the future site for BCF offices. For now, staff are temporarily at a building nearby that also houses an “aquaponic” garden that significantly supplements the outdoor plant haul.

Aquaponics Technician Brandy Supernaw (Osage/Quapaw) operates the Aquaponics Center. Not one for taking credit, Supernaw prefers to keep his hands in the dirt at BCF and at the Aquaponics Center planting, tending, harvesting, processing, weighing, and delivering fresh produce to Osage Nation elders’ and children’s nutritional programs. He also operates the woodcutting machinery, piles it, loads it, and delivers it to funerals feasts.

“He calls all the schools, when in session, asking if they need or want produce. He has his own garden at home and will donate his own garden produce if he has an abundance of a crop,” said BCF Garden Assistant Margaret Sisk (Osage) about Supernaw’s hard work. She also works at the farm and at the Aquaponics Center.

So, what is the purpose of BCF? 
“Increase and rebuild [Osage] food sovereignty, provide a source of fresh vegetables and fruits to all of our districts,” said George. And, not just any vegetables and fruits. This year, George, Sisk, and Supernaw wanted to start planting more traditional foods using more traditional methods and seeds. So, they implemented the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) growing method in one of the cornfields in order to increase the production of traditional Osage plants.

“Have you seen our Three Sisters,” asked Sisk excitedly from under her sunhat while giving Osage Communications a tour of BCF on one of the hottest days this July. In her new-found career, Sisk now spends the majority of her day working at the farm outside and when she’s off work she’s researching and watching videos about farming and gardening.

“I’ve really grown to appreciate the sacredness of food now that I know what it takes to grow fresh healthy food that hasn’t been altered and processed,” said Sisk who is passionate about bringing this message to more Osage people.

Currently, there are three full time staff at BCF. Osage Nation Career Development has been helpful by providing one or more temporary hires. There are even fewer volunteers, and lots of land and crops to work. They still have mother nature to work with and have had big and small occasional setbacks. But, the team they have has still managed to grow and deliver tons of fresh food.

George said BCF can meet their goals with more Osage community buy-in and more education about food sovereignty and food security.

Growing and expanding BCF
“Growing a farm from scratch is a process we are just now really getting a grasp on as far as what we can do and what our potential is,” said George. “The current administration is fully behind the growth and development of BCF and we need that support from everyone.”
Within the next five years, George said, “I would like to build enough infrastructure here in Pawhuska to be able to have satellite farms at each village and Skiatook. [BCF staff] would also like to see us eventually sell our produce to all seven Osage Casinos. This would enable [the Osage Nation] to provide more jobs for Osages as well as be able to provide even more fresh, healthy, quality produce locally.”

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