As the Indigenous Community Center (ICC) grows in its mission to serve Lawrence’s Native population, the organization has announced the launch of its new farm project.
The ICC has reserved an acre of farmland in northeast Lawrence, where board members and a crew of volunteers will plant perennial crops including berries, vegetables, roots, edible flowers and herbal medicines.
The farm project is designed to promote autonomy, access to healthy foods, and Indigenous land stewardship practices. All of these components revolve around food sovereignty: “the ability to grow, eat, and share food according to tribes’ own traditions and values.” The Indigenous food sovereignty movement also addresses food insecurity — which disproportionately affects Native populations — at its roots.
“This is a community-based program, and it’s really about taking back space and being able to practice Indigenous farming techniques,” says Robert Hicks, ICC chair and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada. “It’s a pay-as-you-can economy, so even if you can’t pay anything, you can still get your food from farm to table.”
All of the crops will be native to Kansas or the Americas, which comes with its own set of benefits. Native plants have deep root systems that are excellent at storing water, which combats flooding and drought — two of the biggest issues Douglas County will experience from climate change.
The farm will also be maintained with Indigenous practices modeled after the ones used at Maseualkualli Farms. This local organic food farm, which is Indigenous-led, uses no-till and no-fossil-fuel practices.
Pantaleon Florez, the founder and operator of Maseualkualli Farms, has provided critical help for ICC to get the farm off (and in) the ground.
“Sovereignty is that last step when you really finally made it, and a big part of food sovereignty is seed sovereignty,” Florez says.
That’s why a big part of the farm project is developing a seed bank. In collaboration with seed banks from the Kansas City Indian Center, Potawatomi Nation, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the ICC will develop a reserve of native crop seeds for its own uses and to distribute to community members who want to start their own gardens. This will ensure the farm’s sustainability for years to come, especially despite the impacts of climate change.
With its focus on regenerative agriculture and community, the farm is also about nurturing the next generation of Native farmers. The ICC is looking to launch a young Indigenous farmer fellowship later this year, which would include a curriculum for beginner food sovereignty farmers.
“I like to focus on what we bring to the community as far as togetherness and healing and reconnecting through Mother Earth,” says Moniqué Mercurio, an ICC vice chair and committee head of the Navajo and Esselen nations. “Especially during COVID, it’s important to provide an environment where our youth can get reconnected in an old way that’s sometimes forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the colonized world we’re so used to. I think the youth will fall right in with feeling a sense of belonging, because we have such a wide variety of people joining this project.”
ICC leaders would encourage citizens of the larger Lawrence community to get involved. The ICC met its fundraising goal for berry plants, but organizers are still looking to fund more things, such as herb plug trays, trellising structures for the berries, and youth programs dedicated to Indigenous farming techniques and community. Donations can be made directly through the organization’s website.
Volunteers are also welcome to help with planting and other farm work. People can express interest by getting in touch with Hicks and Mercurio directly via email, at Robert.Hicksicc@gmail.com or Monique.Mercurio.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.