“Business of Indian Agriculture” Empowers Native Ag Pros

Bus_Indian_Ag_logo NEW

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently hosted a two-day workshop for Native farmers and ranchers to help them successfully grow their businesses. Thirty-five agriculture professionals participated in the recent training in Denver, despite a late-March blizzard that shut down much of Colorado.

Over the past several years, First Nations has hosted more than a dozen The Business of Indian Agriculture (BoIA) convenings. These trainings are designed to empower Native agriculture professionals and enhance their understanding of the business aspects of farming and ranching.

Many BoIA participants have worked in agriculture all of their lives, growing food and livestock for their families and communities. The BoIA training provides food producers with the tools and resources necessary to expand their small family farms and ranches to larger production operations.

Financial and Business Knowledge

“I’d like to thank First Nations for providing the know-how and the tools necessary for the progression of our business,” says Hawaii farmer Mālie Colleado. “Many farmers who are passionate about what they do lack the knowledge on the financial end and the business end. This training boosted our progression to success. And for that I say Mahalo Nui!”

Some participants at the March "The Business of Indian Agriculture" training in Denver, including Maile (center, in green shirt)

Some participants at the March “The Business of Indian Agriculture” training in Denver, including Mālie Colleado (seated in center)

During Day One, participants learned about writing a business plan, specifically focusing on how to develop a financial plan. Participants learned how to tell their company’s story, while also learning about important finance practices such as bookkeeping skills, personal financial management and how to use credit wisely.

“A lot of participants came here today with a plan in their head,” said First Nations consultant Fred Briones. “This training is intended to teach them how to put those plans on paper.” He notes that several participants walked away with business plans to expand their agribusinesses.

Food Systems Methodology

During Day Two, participants learned about building healthy communities and economies using an integrated food systems methodology. According to First Nations consultant Joanie Buckley, Native food producers must work together across different tribes, departments and teams to engage the entire community. One such example is the Oneida Community Integrated Food System in Wisconsin.

This initiative is a collective of five strategies that help align Oneida Nation of Wisconsin entities and programs, which include the Oneida Nation farm, apple orchard, food distribution program, cannery, health center, and grants office. The staff and volunteers work together to engage the Oneida community and build sustainable agricultural practices for future generations.

“These convenings are about building capacity in Indian Country, and learning from each other,” says Buckley. “It’s about sharing ideas and bringing people together. The more we can share, the more Indian Country will prosper.”

Between sessions, the trainers and participants networked, brainstormed and discussed common challenges. The most important part of the training, notes Oneida farmer Kyle Wisneski, is that participants are able to meet other Indigenous farmers. “Sometimes it feels like there are not many other farmers like me — Indigenous farmers who are trying to grow their businesses,” says Wisneski. “It’s nice to see other Native farmers striving to make the same changes.”

More participants at the training, including Kyle Wisneski (far left).

More participants at the training, including Kyle Wisneski (far left).

In fact, trainers and participants spent more time getting to know each other than they probably expected. On the second day of the convening, a “bomb cyclone” blizzard blasted Colorado and brought much of the city of Denver to a standstill. First Nations staff, as well as many of the BoIA trainers and participants, hunkered down in the hotel for dinner to wait out the blizzard.

Providing Access to Information

Many participants received travel scholarships to attend this convening. These trainings are intended for those farmers and ranchers that might not otherwise have access to the information, tools and resources they need to grow their agribusiness. In addition to providing 23 travel scholarships, First Nations also paid for an extra night at the hotel for those whose flights and travel had been affected by the bomb cyclone.

As part of the Keepseagle Fast-Track Grant Program, First Nations will offer three more BoIA trainings this year, one of which will be a train-the-trainer workshop. The next two-day, producer-focused workshop is scheduled for July 9-11, 2019, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. For more information about how to register or apply for a scholarship, please visit this link.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer