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Red Lake Local Food Initiative: an Update with David Manuel

David Manuel is Foods Planner for the Red Lake Local Food Initiative. Simply put, his job is to bring good food to the people of the Red Lake Nation. David isn’t shy about sharing his opinions about food and its impact: “The Red Lake Local Food Initiative is a program that was designed with the tribal members in mind, to address their diet-related health disparities. I hate to put it that way so early in the morning…so I want to turn it around and say ‘it’s for our good health and long life.’ But we do have a lot of health disparities in the form of diabetes and obesity, heart disease and cancer. All these things are over-represented in our community. We believe that diet is one of the factors contributing to these issues that are facing us.”

“I’m part of a great team. We rack our brains thinking about what resources we have at hand, and what land we could possibly turn into some sort of agriculture…a couple acres here and a couple there…we’ve been doing that for going on 3 years. We went operational in April of 2016 and we broke ground in Redby MN with an acre of land that we repurposed. It had formerly been a greenhouse for the forestry where they propagated the white pine, red pine, jack pine, and white oak, for replanting and reforesting our land.

“Since then we put up a high tunnel, a greenhouse that’s half finished. We just need to finish it up, and we’ll be in a position to propagate our own vegetables. At this time we’ve been purchasing seeds and seedlings. But seed saving is another component of food sovereignty; food security—which all communities face here in Minnesota. We’ve been able to save some of our indigenous corn seed that we’ve propagated. I’ve been growing the Bear Island Flint variety and we have other people that are growing different Red Lake varieties that have survived through time. So we’re looking forward to propagating those kinds of things.

“We really also make a legitimate attempt to bring education to our tribal members. Currently we’re doing that by offering a beginning farmer webinar series.”

The first webinar starts next Wednesday, February 6th at 6 p.m. and runs for 9 weeks (see photo above). Topics include pruning fruit trees, soil properties for field and hoop house, seed saving, small farm business start-up, quality hay and pasture, pruning small fruits, selling to wholesale buyers, farm financial management, and cover crop types and uses.

David Manuel was a gardener before he went to work for the Local Food Initiative, “But I’ve learned so much more about food and gardening, and especially the food system in the United States and around the world. It’s really an eye opener! Because of that, I really doubled down saying ‘we really need to have a little bit more control over where our food comes from.’ Maybe by planting and teaching other people farming methods we can address that. I call it a long-term plan…a 40-year plan; a hundred-year plan. I see it as viable and people are interested.”

The Food Initiative is part of 4 Directions Development, which fosters entrepreneurs, including local artists. “There’s no reason why Red Lakers can’t be entrepreneurs. We have many entrepreneurs here in Red Lake and we want to create more.”

The food initiative has a Facebook page called Gitigaanike (pronounced giti-gah-nih-KAY). “It is our #1 tool for communicating to our friends here in Red Lake and anyone else who is interested in what information we share there. Gigigaanike means ‘to make a garden,’ and essentially that’s what the program does. We provide services for individual gardeners during the spring through our Project Grow, which begins in May. We’ll be providing seeds and seedlings for up to 400 tribal members. We’ll be out there tilling gardens in their yards. Simultaneously we’ll be planting our own gardens and training our own people that are working for us that have come through Oshkiimaajitahdah. What’s really been cool about all of this is that we started off with 2 employees and now we have 6. That is growth! We’ve created 4 legit jobs, and that’s 4 more people to work. I think it’s a wonderful thing. We hope to be able to create more jobs and more opportunity for those that actually want to be their own boss.”

In the full interview with David Manuel he explains more about the Red Lake Local Food Program to KAXE/KBXE Morning Show hosts David Harrington and Maggie Montgomery. He also gives a preview of this fall’s Red Lake Nation Food Summit, and talks a bit about the upcoming maple sugaring season.

David Manuel is also a photographer. His photos are part of an exhibit on display now through March 24th at Watermark Art Center in Bemidji, called On Native Land. They depict the ancestral stands of maple trees in Ponemah where his family made maple sugar.

Learn more in the full interview below.