Accessing healthy food is still a challenge for many Native American children, families and communities. The most vulnerable – and perhaps most neglected – members of these communities are often Native American seniors.
In 2012, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma $25,000 to establish the Healthy Pork Project, which produced more than 2,000 pounds of healthy, chemically-free pork that was distributed to approximately 1,200 Ponca elders and their families. This grant project, which was underwritten by AARP Foundation, is part of a larger initiative to find sustainable solutions to senior hunger in rural and reservation-based Native communities.
A study conducted by the Ponca tribe several years ago suggested that more than half of their elderly population lives in poverty with an annual income of less than $10,000. Furthermore, many members of this population are grandparents who raise one or more grandchild. The Food Research and Action Center suggests that food insecurity more than doubles among grandparents who raise their grandchildren.
The Healthy Pork Project is the brainchild of tribal member Amos Hinton, who recognized that many Ponca elders were struggling to feed themselves and their families. This realization compelled Amos to research a sustainable solution. Eventually his research led him to the idea of a natural animal farm, which is a healthy alternative to an industrial pig farm. Industrial pig farms often use growth hormones and other potentially dangerous supplements or chemicals to breed and process pigs.
The tribe donated the small tract of land needed to establish the pig farm and Amos borrowed an old computer and sat down to write his very first grant proposal. Within a month, he received word from First Nations that his grant proposal had been approved. He immediately began purchasing the animals and equipment needed to launch the Healthy Pork Project. Once the pigs had been processed, he began distributing healthy, chemically-free pork to Ponca elders at the local senior center.
The tremendous success of this first project has encouraged Amos to expand his efforts to commercial agriculture. He will continue to donate half of the pork he produces to Ponca elders. However, he has also started to sell this lean, healthy meat to local stores and restaurants.
The Healthy Pork Project demonstrates that small, community-driven efforts are powerful and capable of effecting great change. Amos’ advice to other tribes and Native organizations interested in developing a sustainable solution to senior hunger is simple: “Start. Don’t wait for others to find these solutions for you. We need to know where our food is coming from and we need to know that it is healthy for our communities.”
By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator