A project to improve the diets and health of Osages that has been years in the planning kicked off July 13, when Oklahoma State University and Harvest Land began distributing free fresh produce and cooking equipment to selected families.
The pilot project is only for six families but in January it is to expand to 200 families, half of whom will get the weekly “Go Healthy” program boxes brimming with seasonal fresh food. The first boxes contained carrots, eggplant, fresh herbs, zucchini and yellow squash, tomatoes, corn, strawberries and other fresh produce.
Families who participate in the study will undergo health tests for blood pressure, blood sugar, beta carotene and other benchmarks before and after the four-month project. Adult participants will each be paid $75 at the beginning of the study and the same amount when it ends – in addition to receiving the free food boxes. Children will also be paid.
The 100 control families who do not get the free food boxes during the study will get gift cards in an amount equal to the value of the food afterward that will be redeemable at Harvest Land. Families will also receive some cooking equipment, like a slow cooker, as well as recipes specific to the produce received each week.
Organizers are actively recruiting families to participate in the study. Eligible families must have at least one adult member between 18 and 75 years old who is both Native American and overweight (BMI above 25), must live in Osage County and must be available weekly to pick up food boxes at one of three sites.
Susie Lopez, an OSU post-doctoral fellow in public health and psychology, said the Osage Nation is the only tribe participating in the study, which is funded by a grant from the National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities.
“We’ve received a phenomenal response so far,” Lopez said.
Several years ago, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and then-Assistant Chief Raymond Red Corn had a vision for food sovereignty that ultimately led to the development of Harvest Land and Butcher House Meats. Like many other Native American communities, Osages live in a food desert; many drive to Tulsa in search of high-quality produce because what is locally available is often expensive and not very fresh, and many wind up eating processed and shelf-stable foods that are unhealthy.
For help, the Nation turned to public health researcher and Choctaw member Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan at the University of Oklahoma, who is now director of OSU’s Center for Indigenous Health Research and Policy, which is overseeing the Osage Nation study, called Go Healthy, and a previous study called Go Fresh. Go Fresh led to community gardens and an effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption – as well as vegetable cultivation – by children in Osage schools.
In an article by the NIH, Jernigan said that Native Americans are increasingly seeking to return to the diets that they have lost.
“Native people have this experience with food that has to do with historical removal, relocation, and restriction to reservations, and then dependency on commodity foods,” she said in the NIH article. “For many of us, we have been in this long sleep of colonization. And we are starting to wake up from this colonization.”
“Right now is a big revitalization initiative when it comes to food, and the environment, and the way we relate to and connect to the land.”
Interested in being a part of the study? Call (918) 287-5201 or email Tabitha.firstname.lastname@example.org