The First Farmers were Indigenous.
Ever thought Indigenous peoples learned farming from settlers? Think again. We are the First Farmers of Turtle Island. We were already working the land long before our Euro-visitors dropped in. Nomadic wanderers? Not quite. Living with the land and using sophisticated sustainable agricultural practices were our thing. One of the ironies of modern farming is the effort that is currently invested in eradicating “weeds”, many of which were either domesticated or used for medicine by First Farmers.
Many of the foods people love today have grown and been planted, stewarded and eaten on Turtle Island for centuries, if not millennia.
"Before 1492, tomatoes, potatoes, wild rice, salmon, pumpkins, peanuts, bison, chocolate, vanilla, blueberries and corn, among other foods, were unknown in Europe, Africa and Asia. Today, we think of tomatoes as an Italian staple, of potatoes as quintessentially Irish or northern European, and even of peanuts as native to Africa. But Native American farmers cultivated and developed these foods over hundreds of generations, long before Europeans exported them throughout the world," explains Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institution, in the foreword for The Mitsitam Café Cookbook: Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian by executive chef Richard Hetzler.
We were good at agriculture but some things got in the way, like the Indian Act and its series of rules which made farming on the reserves an activity destined to fail. Laws, restrictions and the Permit System were put in place to limit access to farm land and settlers were given large tracts of our fertile farm land. Successful Indigenous run cattle ranches were taken out of operation.
RENEWAL OF INDIGENOUS FOOD SYSTEMS & ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION
Back then, it was out of our control. Our limited participation in agriculture today is not of our doing. We must remember that we were the First Farmers and recognize that today, we have a chance to be again. It is appropriate and called for that the Canadian government support Indigenous farmers - this is an important area of reconciliation. First Farms & Forests (today they are called permaculture food forests) aims to encourage young Indigenous farmers to take advantage of the opportunity to get back to what we do best - work with the land. Let’s use this deep ancestral knowledge to help guide all people to a more sustainable approach to agriculture and develop food systems that honour relationships between people and the land.
FACING THE GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS AND THREAT OF SOIL EXTINCTION TOGETHER
Soil extinction is an everybody problem. The planet we all depend on is in serious trouble. It is time for all hands on deck. Due to unsustainable agricultural practices, n acre of soil in the world is turning into desert every second. This is a statistic with grave consequences for all life on this planet. Canada is not immune to the effects/
In an effort to do our part, First Farms & Forest has developed the in house capability of testing soil for biological activity. In 2023, we will make this service available to farmers and serious gardeners who intend to do soothing good with the knowledge - like build a food forest in their own backyard, or help to advocate for soil in some way. Interested in helping? Contact us here and we will email you with opportunity updates.
OUR FOOD RELATIONSHIP
“To address Indigenous food security and sovereignty, the understanding of Indigenous worldviews and foodways is imperative. For many Indigenous communities, land is more than just property; it encompasses culture, identity, relationships, ecosystems, social systems, spirituality, and law. It is a common belief amongst Indigenous communities that their land is part of their origin story. As a result, Indigenous peoples often hold ecological and spiritual relationships with food-providing plants and animals. Knowledge and traditions on agricultural cultivation skills are often passed down through generations and rituals, songs, and ceremonies are often performed in gratitude for the co-creation of non-human beings. Rather than a ‘product’ or ‘resource’ to be exploited, food is seen as a “gift from the Creator”, which has great cultural and spiritual significance.”
(Overcoming Policy Barriers to Indigenous Food Sovereignty in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: A Feasibility Study, Shawn Fang, Shadow Feng, Desiree Gabriel, 2021)
FOOD AS JUSTICE
The modern trend talk about local foods, sustainable agriculture, permaculture - none of this is news to Indigenous peoples. It is how we have always done things. Intercropping for example - building mounds to plant corn, beans and squash together is a long standing Indigenous agricultural method that maintains balance in the soil due to how the three crops relate to each other. Food foraging is nothing more than living with the land, not taking more than you need and preserving Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is critical to ensuring best practices to allow plants and trees to regenerate for generations to come. Many of the current day health issues Canadians experience could be overcome by applying TEK practices.
What we've accomplished so far...
Our volunteers and community participants have accomplished great things with approximately $150,000 of rescued food of redistributed to Indigenous and non-indigenous community members in Niagara, Hamilton, Ohsweken and parts of Norfolk. This is food that otherwise would have ended up in land fill and so we have had a positive environmental impact. Anything sorted and found to be unfit for humans is provided to a local farmer who's animals are overjoyed with what to them is fresh!
Health the People, Heal the Land! Some super cool opportunities have grown from this...we have started a tea company to support our operations, and we have plans underway to develop a regenerative food forest! It is our hope that with a return to the teachings in land, food, medicine and relationship practices, that human and Mother earth health and wellness can be restored, disease processes can be slowed or reversed and the warrior spirit can live with certainty of identity and place in Canadian society.