three sisters umonhon nation farm to school program

Who We Are

Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation Public School (UNPS) is located on the Omaha Reservation in the Village of Macy, Nebraska. Macy is located in Thurston County, along the Missouri River separating Iowa and Nebraska. It is located nearly 80 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska, and 40 miles south of Sioux City, Iowa. The county population is thinly spread with 6,946 people over 394 square miles with small pockets of medical, financial, and retail resources. While Macy has a population of 1,023 residents, there is literally only one small convenience store in the village, resulting in very limited access to healthy food and fresh produce. It is 40 miles to the closest full-scale shopping center. Macy has Nebraska’s highest unemployment rate and is 336% higher than the national average. Currently 60% of Umoⁿhoⁿ children live in poverty. Sadly, many families live in crisis here, where substance dependence, domestic violence, food insecurity, and poor health plague the community. State health statistics report that Macy has disproportionate rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In this case, the classification of food desert has major repercussions; therefore, the development of a sustainable model of food production, sovereignty, and accessibility is literally a matter of life and death.

Food also plays a very important role in the cultural ceremony of the Umoⁿhoⁿ people. Reintroducing foods that are native to the indigenous diet is crucial to restoring the physical, emotional, and cultural health of our native community. Teaching our youth about the health benefits of fresh food, sustainable gardening, and farming practices and the cultural ceremonies associated with nature, will hopefully ensure these important practices will be reestablished on the Omaha Reservation.

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“Ashita The’wathe Program” (Let’s Play Outside)

In the spring of 2019, UNPS embarked on a very progressive project by creating an outdoor classroom, “Ashita The’wathe Program” (Let’s Play Outside), that would allow native students to be instructed about the natural sciences through a cultural lens. We paired a doctoral level naturalist with a certified culture teacher to provide direct instruction to students in grades K-8. Secondary students who are enrolled in either JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) or Vocational Rehabilitation were also given the opportunity to participate in this project utilizing the tiered and raised gardens, geo-thermal greenhouse, the Little House of Learning, and the ceremonial gathering circle.

In the spring of 2021, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska agreed to lease Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation Public School seven acres of the tribal farming ground to create and nurture a school garden/farm. This opportunity not only provided much needed fresh produce to the residents of Macy and the school cafeteria, it also provided paid employment opportunities for several high school

students, as well as, the opportunity to teach many of the cultural practices and ceremonies associated with planting, cultivating, and harvesting the annual crop. While in its infancy, we learned many hard lessons along the way. Nonetheless, we felt as though the first growing

season was a tremendous success in that it yielded over two thousand pounds of produce, paid over $50,000 in student/staff wages, and built beautiful relationships between the school and the community.

The first summer we were able to accomplish program goals with very rudimentary tools, few resources and little experience. The physical labor involved was at times overwhelming and not particularly sustainable. By year two, UNPS staff had formed critical partnerships, attended workshops, and worked diligently to learn both modern and traditional farming practices. We addressed many barriers by hiring an experienced Farm to School Coordinator, drilled a shallow well, installed weed barriers and practiced staggered planting to manage the harvest and reduce food waste. As a result, over 6000 pounds of food were distributed to the Omaha Reservation through the school cafeteria, the UNPS Culinary pathway, UNPS Bluestem Coffeehouse and Café, the Macy Senior Center, and bi-weekly Community Farmer’s Markets.

"This program has the potential to provide fresh, healthy food to literally thousands of native families IF we can keep the momentum going."

The Three Sisters Farm is the first farm school-based program in Indian Country. Numerous schools are watching this project in hopes of replicating our efforts to address the critical issue of food accessibility on the reservation. This program has the potential to provide fresh, healthy food to literally thousands of native families IF we can keep the momentum going. In an effort to sustain this critical programming and continue to offer much needed vocational opportunities for our native students, we are seeking funding to streamline our farming practices by drilling a deep well and integrating an irrigation system.

Our work so far UNPS began working with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Fall of 2022 to begin exploring funding opportunities for our project. In December 2022, UNPS submitted paperwork to the Dept. of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to become an agricultural producer (Farm #4141, Tract #515). After submitting those documents to FSA, UNPS also filled out and submitted a Conservation

Program Application stating that we would like to participate in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The application was submitted on December 12, 2022 and as of today we have not received an update.

In May 2023, UNPS applied for (under the advice of NRCS) a Conservation Collaboration Cooperative Agreement through funding opportunity USDA-NRCS-NE-MULTI-23- NOFO0001237. UNPS applied for funds to build a production facility, however in July 2023 we learned that our project was not funded.

We have not yet received feedback on our application therefore at this time, we do not know why our project has not been funded. Our last contact with NRCS was in July 2023 when we were notified of staffing changes at our local level. Our new representative Jami Thoene has not contacted us since July 6, 2023.

UNPS is currently stuck between a rock and a hard place in regards to funding. We know there is funding out there for this project, however, we have yet to tap into a funding source from a government entity such as NRCS or the USDA. Despite repeated promises of funding possibilities that do not pan out.

Please help us navigate the different funding avenues in order to secure the much-needed resources for this historic project.

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