FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s a Monday morning and while milling around a room at the University of Arkansas, Osage Nation citizen Katelyn Meylor has a decision to make.
Does she want to raise cattle, chickens or vegetables?
A resident of Auburn, Calif., Meylor is one of 150 students from 76 tribes participating in the Fourth Annual Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit, July 16-25.
Co-hosted by the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative and the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the summit brings together Native youth from across the country for 10 days to provide networking opportunities, as well as an introduction to drafting policy, ethnobotany and business planning.
In addition to classroom sessions, participants had hands-on sessions as well, including a simulation on budgeting to cover all the costs that come with running a farm, plus tours of the Quapaw Tribe’s greenhouses and livestock facilities and the animal and food sciences laboratories at the host institution.
The director of the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, Janie Simms Hipp is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. A former senior policy adviser to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, she has been at each edition of the summit, which has mushroomed in popularity since its initial bow in 2013.
“I’ve never seen it this way before,” she said. “I’ve never seen this kind of focus and burning activity and desire around food. I’ve never seen it.
“It’s a confluence of a lot. It’s realizing that our people need to be fed and need healthy food.”
A senior at Bear River High School, Meylor found out about the summit via social media and came for the opportunity to further develop her interest in agriculture policy.
“I come from a school that’s big in FFA,” she said. “I’m interested in ag law and the tribal sovereignty aspect.”
Osage Nation citizen Keir Johnson-Reyes, a resident of Plasterville, Calif., is a representative for the Intertribal Ag Council and was among the staffers at the summit. In addition to growing speckled and red corn, he is a technical assistance resource for indigenous farmers and ranchers in Nevada, Hawaii and California and views events like the summit as an opportunity to better equip the next generation.
“We’re charged to be mentors in Indian Country,” he said. “We want to be a point of contact. The summit is like a doorway or way to get tapped into all sorts of resources and opportunities.
“It’s not just cows and plows. It’s traditional foods, gathering, hunting, natural resources, land management. Wherever your interests are, we can plug you into those resources.”
The fourth annual event comes as census data compiled by the federal government shows both a decrease in the total number of farmers nationwide and a steady increase in the average age of the American farmer.
According to data compiled by both the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture, the average age of the American farmer is 58, up from 50 in 1982. Among American Indian and Native Alaskan farmers, more than one-third are age 65 or older. With Indian Country facing a shorter life expectancy than the rest of the United States, leaders in the indigenous agriculture community are feeling the graying effects even faster.
“We can’t wait 20 years to have our replacement available,” IAC member Zach Ducheneaux said. “We’ve made a conscious decision to start grooming the next generation to step in and starting doing this sooner rather than later.”
Original Publish Date: 2017-08-09 00:00:00