For a 2016-2017 project, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) selected 21 tribes and organizations across 12 states to receive grants to support nutrition education, especially among individuals who receive food under the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Among those selected, under generous funding from the Walmart Foundation, was the Bishop Paiute Tribe of Bishop, California.
(This story was originally published in the recent “Outcomes Under the Nutrition Education for Native Communities Project” report that First Nations prepared for the Walmart Foundation. The full report is available for free on the First Nations Knowledge Center at http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/foods-health/research.)
The Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program (FSP) has been working to expand its garden-based nutrition education projects to encourage healthy food and lifestyle choices by partnering with the Bishop Elementary School (BES), the Bishop Indian Head Start (BIHS), and the Inyo County Health and Human Services Department and its food initiative programs.
With the funding provided by First Nations and the Walmart Foundation, the Food Sovereignty program, now in its third year, worked to expand the tribe’s work and community outreach.
Families Learn Together
“We focused on increasing garden-based and nutrition education offerings for the fifth-grade classes at BES, and offered similar food related activities to BIHS students,” said Jen Schlaich, Food Program Specialist for the Food Sovereignty Program. “Additionally, in collaboration with our FoodCorps Service Member Shanae Vega, FSP staff held an eight-week nutrition education class for Head Start families with hands-on cooking activities for both parents and children.”
Each week the class featured a new fruit or vegetable in recipes that the FSP cooked in advanced to share with participants as a taste-test. Parents then went through the preparation steps for the featured recipe.
“BIHS already had a nutrition curriculum. However, in the evening classes, which involved both parents and their children, we were able to integrate foods that students were learning about during the day into their home lives,” said Schlaich.
While the parents were trying out the new recipes, the kids were engaged in simple cooking activities that incorporated the same fruit or vegetable that their parents were learning about. The class ended with a fun activity for the whole family such as painting clay pots and planting cooking herbs or designing a fruit basket to take home to an elder. Also, the parents who attended the class were able to take home the meal that had been prepared in class that day.
Plants Impact the Community
While the youngest students were cooking up fun at the Head Start kitchens, the middle school students were busy outside in the gardens tending their own growing plots, and learning about a plant not indigenous to their area. In the Fall of 2016, as part of a farmer-to-farmer cultural exchange supported by The Garden’s Edge, Quachuu Aloom, a Guatemalan Farmers’ Cooperative, visited the FSP gardens to teach community members about one of their important traditional foods – amaranth.
Both the fifth-graders and the Head Start students visited the garden to learn about how to harvest and process amaranth, in addition to cooking with it and using it to make crafts. “We puffed the amaranth using a hot skillet and used it to make honey ‘granola’ bars that the students were able to taste. The seeds can be used in stews, ground into flour, or eaten like porridge. It is also a wonderful natural dye which the students were able to experiment with when making holiday gifts from plants to bring home to their families. The amaranth became so popular with the students that the small health food store in town ran out of amaranth. Community members requested seeds to plant along their fences as a usable barrier, and amaranth seed packets were distributed to those who were interested in it,” said Schlaich.
Other foods planted and harvested in the FSP’s family-demonstration garden included: Mohawk red corn courtesy of Rowen White from Akwesasne and founder of Sierra Seeds, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, rainbow chard, leeks, radishes, acorn squash, herbs and flowers useful for medicinal purposes or for crafts, currants, gooseberries, beans, peas and bamboo.
Nutrition Education from the Ground Up
Shanae Vega, a Bishop Paiute tribal member, worked with FSP as the FoodCorps service member and served as the garden education mentor. Vega would provide support with the nutrition education lessons during the day with the Head Start students, and later in the evenings was involved in the eight-week cooking series for the Head Start families.
Schlaich says Vega was excited to be involved and connecting with community members around garden-based and nutrition education, especially with the kids. At every cooking class Vega was surrounded by kids, who were wondering what she was going to help them cook or what they might get to taste-test next. Vega was also excited to work with all of the fifth-grade classes in Bishop that included students from the reservation and from the City of Bishop. She also worked with all children at BIHS and their families from the reservation.
All of the project’s efforts, including the partnership with FoodCorps, provided over 127 BES students with 10 hours of nutrition education, and nearly 85 BIHS students with six plus hours of garden-based education. Schlaich and Vega worked to get the information out to the community through a variety of ways, via the tribal newspaper, KBPT Bishop Paiute tribal radio station, and through their partnerships with BES, BIHS, and the Inyo County Health and Human Services Department.
Schlaich says the partnerships, and the funding support from First Nations were key to their success. “We never would have had the resources for the eight-week nutrition education cooking classes without the support from First Nations. It was definitely a huge support that made the garden-based and nutrition education components of the Food Sovereignty Program much stronger. We’re excited and motivated to continue with cooking demonstrations during the third year of our community market.”
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer