Project addressing food insecurity on the Wind River Reservation gets land for growing and educating
After five years of connecting people to the land through food, the Wind River Food Sovereignty Project (WRFSP) finally has some land to call its own. The 30-acre property in Fort Washakie will be home to a demonstration farm and learning garden, and will also host programming focused on growing and preserving Indigenous foods.
WRFSP started in 2018 and works to increase the supply of healthy and affordable food on the Wind River Reservation by supporting local food production and education. The project grew out of conversations about the need to address food insecurity and high rates of diet-related disease in the community.
Kelly Pingree is an enrolled member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and is one of the project’s co-directors. Pingree said the site, called Trout Creek Farm, will provide the opportunity for community members to reconnect to the land and traditional agricultural practices in an experiential, place-based way.
“We have to get back to our roots of those Indigenous food ways. We can teach our kids here through the learning garden and bring up our schools here on the reservation too,” she said.
In addition to being a space for education, Pingree said that she hopes Trout Creek Farm can support holistic health for community members and be a place for people to rest and de-stress.
“We want to build a walkway all the way around the property so people can walk and just enjoy watching the corn grow or looking at the gardens,” she said.
For Pingree, the mental health benefits of spending time with your hands in the dirt are just as important as the potential physical health benefits of the space.
“Gardening always made me happy. Just planting something makes you happy, watching it grow makes you happy,” she said.
Livy Lewis is WRFSP’s other co-director. She said the project plans to build food storage and a commercial kitchen at the site to help producers expand the scale and reach of what they grow.
“One of our end hopes is that we can get locally produced food into some of the institutions, like school districts, casino restaurants, and senior living,” she said.
Irrigated plots of land will be available at Trout Creek Farm for those who want to produce food for the community beyond their own households, as well as a commercial-scale greenhouse thanks to a USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service grant.
Lewis said the space will also be a hub for collaborations with other local organizations working to address food security and education on the reservation, like the Restoring Shoshone Ancestral Food group and the Wind River Tribal Buffalo Initiative.
“For all of this time, we've been trying to do land based work and we haven't had land. So, we hope that this [land] will benefit other organizations, other work, and other community groups as well,” she said.
WRFSP plans to start hosting classes on Indigenous food preservation – like drying and canning bison meat – at Trout Creek Farm in the spring. Pingree said the project hopes to increase its programming and offerings to the community as it continues to build up the infrastructure on the land.
“We've worked really hard to get where we've gotten. We're going to just plow on ahead and do what we have to do to get these things going,” she said.
WRFSP has also provided grants and training to local cattle ranchers, hunter-gatherers, farmers, and other food producers on the reservation. For the past two years, they’ve also partnered with Central Wyoming College to help recruit and financially support tribally affiliated students in the school’s Beginning Farmer Training program.
In the summer, the project runs two weekly farmers markets for the community in Fort Washakie and Arapaho, as well as a market in Fort Washakie in the winter.