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Food Sovereignty and Space for Perennials with Garden Futurist Michelle Week

Articles: Food Sovereignty and Space for Perennials with Garden Futurist Michelle Week

Summer 2023

Listen to the Podcast here.

“It’s going to take all peoples from all cultural backgrounds to grow and build a resilient and solid food system for our urban centers.”

Michelle Week is a first-generation female Native farmer. She owns and operates x̌ast sq̓it which translates to Good Rain in the traditional language of the Arrow Lakes peoples.

Michelle Week brings us a story that is about access to traditional foods for Indigenous community members and what is revealed when she looks closely at the plants themselves.

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Sarah Beck: You’re listening to Garden Futurist. I’m Sarah Beck, here with Adrienne St. Clair. Hi, Adrienne.

Adrienne St. Clair: Hi, Sarah.

Sarah Beck: Adrienne, I had a really fun trip to Portland last year, and I got to see you, and I also got to meet our guest today, Michelle Week. I knew immediately that Michelle was a garden futurist with a perspective that we absolutely had to include in our conversation.  

Adrienne St. Clair: Our guest today is Michelle Week. She is a first-generation female Native farmer. She owns and operates x̌ast sq̓it which translates to Good Rain in the traditional language of the Arrow Lakes peoples. She runs a one-acre mixed produce CSA (community supported agriculture) in Portland, Oregon.

Sarah Beck: Michelle brings us a story that is about about access to traditional foods for Indigenous community members and in doing so, I think you will be especially interested to hear the stories that are revealed when Michelle looks more closely at the plants themselves.

Adrienne St. Clair: Alright, let’s listen.

Sarah Beck: I was remembering when I met you last June at Headwaters Farm, and that was in Portland, Oregon, I was visiting with Duane Lane, because Pacific Horticulture was doing a piece on his native plant nursery business, which is called 1855 Plants.

When I met you, I was so excited. I really wanted to talk to you more, and here we are not quite a year later, but it’s been a while.

Michelle Week: Yeah.

Sarah Beck: I’m really happy to have this chance to talk to you, specifically. We can talk in a little bit about Headwaters Farm and some of that story, because I really think that’s a very interesting story.

I want to start with talking to you about your farm. Good Rain Farm, and I’m really hoping you can help me. Is this something I can pronounce?

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Michelle Week: You shouldn’t pronounce it too far off. I think you have a good chance at it. It’s x̌ast sq̓it (hast squeit).
Sarah Beck: x̌ast sq̓it.

Sarah Beck: Okay. So how did you come up with this name, and I want to hear all about how this farm developed? 

Michelle Week:, The name came from, I had started learning a little bit more about our Arrow Lakes sngaytskstx (Sinixt) ancestry. My grandmother had brought some books, and I was reading through those, and I was thinking about what I wanted my farm to focus on.

I was farming under some Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana) and learning about that as a First Food of the Pacific Northwest, and thinking it would be really cool to have a farm that highlights and focuses on Pacific Northwest Indigenous First Foods. I get a chance to reconnect and deepen my relationship with that diet while also bringing the community along for that ride.

So I started digging through a dictionary and I had talked to my grandmother and my mom, and I was like, “What do you both think”—because there it’s a matrilineal ancestry that I have—”What do you both think if I named it in the Native language?” And I gave them this name.

Now, prior to me presenting the name and getting the go ahead from them, I had just been sitting there in my living room saying different words out loud, the best I can, mimicking what I could find recorded on YouTube.

And when I came to the combo of x̌ast sq̓it, I felt that people could get it pretty close. Like I don’t think anyone’s going to get it right on the try. That’s fine. I get “zast skwit,” which honestly isn’t that far off, so I feel like people’s mouths could have a chance.

So we landed on Good Rain. We’re very rainy here on the West Coast and I’ve grown up here on the West Cascades in all this fog and all this rain and I thought, yeah, good rain.

It was later, as I continued reading, that I learned that part of our creation story involves Rain. She falls in love with Sin-ka-lip’, which is Coyote. She uses her blood, and they end up carving out the Columbia River Gorge, and then Coyote leaves Rain for Ocean, her cousin.

Sarah Beck: Little bit of drama there.

Michelle Week: Yeah. Seems pretty classic for Coyote being like this mischievous, kind of horny creature, so yeah.

Later, I was like, oh, well, yeah, it’s still Good Rain. She’s the blood, the life force, that out of the mixture of the Columbia waters—or her blood—and the soil and sand around that is what created the Arrow Lakes people.

So I really liked discovering that afterwards and being like, wow, my intuition really brought me to this appreciation of water as life and just kind of this full circle of what this farm focuses on, and what my ancestry is, and our story.

Sarah Beck: There’s a lot of different pieces of this story I just really want to get into with you. Can you tell us a little bit just more about what your farm business itself is consisting of right now, and what your market is, and what you’re working on?

Michelle Week: So x̌ast sq̓it, Good Rain Farm, is primarily a CSA farm, so a community-supported agriculture farm. We sell 150 summer shares to our community. We prioritize and really try to support Indigenous members, and we do that through a variety of payment pathways that we’ve set up. So we have sliding scale payment, we have payment plans, we take EBT, and we do scholarship as well. And that’s a lot of grant funding and wonderful gifts from community. You can do that on our website, give to the scholarship fund, and that really helps us offset some of those costs, as well.
Nettles (Urtica). Credit: Svklimkin

We have home delivery, as well, and just this year EBT and SNAP have been able to cover home delivery. Normally, our scholarships automatically will come with home delivery if it’s requested. so we try to make sure it’s accessible both physical, economically.

We send out recipes with everything and try to tell food stories the best we can. That’s a lot of research, so sometimes that dwindles near the end of the season, but definitely try to help people preserve, cook meals, eat, and access in all those ways. We do a little bit of wholesale, and we’re hoping to expand into school systems in the next year or two. So yeah, stay tuned for that. See how that goes.

Sarah Beck: Yeah, I hadn’t realized the accessibility piece, which is really fantastic. That’s such a critical element because I think when we think of a lot of these CSA models, it’s a fairly privileged set of people who can afford them. It sounds like you’ve really thought through how to build this into an accessible pathway.

Michelle Week: Yeah, definitely. One of the most striking statistics I’ve come across was that 80 percent of Native Americans actually live off reservation in metropolitan spaces, and that Portland, Oregon, is the fifth largest urban population on the West Coast. Of course LA’s in there, Seattle’s in there, right? We have some really big metropolitans.

But yeah, so knowing who and how we’re serving that population that is removed physically and culturally from their community and their families and their traditional diets, and how do we start weaving that all back together and supporting people in that access is really important to our work, which primarily centers around Native food sovereignty.

Sarah Beck: Well, I want to get into that work that you do and I’m wondering if the fellowship that you recently had may be a tie-in to that, as well. I found out that last year, you received both an Indigenous Leadership award and you won a huge fellowship, the Viviane Barnett Fellowship for Food System Leaders, and it looked to me like that was actually a fairly new fellowship. Can you tell me just a little bit about what that fellowship is and is that over now? Was that a cohort that was for a certain period of time?

Michelle Week: Yeah, that was an 18-month fellowship. Viviane Barnett is a Black leader in the Portland area who started a bunch of community gardens all throughout Portland, primarily in Black communities and neighborhoods, and really fought for and strove for food access for communities.

So learning about that history was really rich and beautiful for myself, connecting with a bunch of other people of color doing food work here. It was for all the Pacific Northwest, so we had some folks all the way up in Seattle.

We were chunked into subcohorts. So I was actually in a subcohort with another Native food activist doing a Native food sovereignty garden at the Native American Youth and Family Center, NAYA here in town.

So that was really nice to be able to connect and interweave our efforts and our work together, and it was pretty self-driven and I could create it as we were moving along. It was new, as you mentioned. So there was a lot of new development and creation and cocreation as we developed this program together.

Ultimately, I think it built a really beautiful community. Made lots of awesome connections, and networked with a bunch of other awesome advocates and leaders in food systems, and just bolstered the work that we are already doing.

Sarah Beck: Let’s just talk broadly about the work that you do, and I was looking at the principles. I love that you share principles of Good Rain Farm, and that those principles are decolonizing diets, revitalizing culture, food sovereignty, which you just mentioned, and returning to reverent sustainable land stewardship.

What strikes me about all of these ideas is the way that they interweave relationships between people and nature. This is something that at Pacific Horticulture we talk about this a lot, this idea of gardening with the ecology, supporting biodiversity, planting native plants in order to do this.

I realize, especially because this is—it’s important to hear this from an Indigenous person. I want to say this in a sensitive but blunt way, because I recognize there may be a disconnect there and you may see people who I’m describing and say, yeah, I see people getting really excited about their native plants because they love pollinators, or they love the food web garden, and they want to do all this.

And I’m just wondering if you feel like there is more to what a gardener needs to know when it comes understanding plants in a cultural context, especially when people are throwing around the word native, and I’m just curious how that strikes you?

Michelle Week: Yeah, yeah. I think as Native people, and I’m sure when you spoke with Duane, you got a lot of context and lens there with him.

But we’ve been removed from our land, and in Western philosophy and Western society, this Western worldview, we separate humans from nature. So when we preserve these national parks and we create these reserves, we remove and try to limit human impact.

I think in that like paved parkways and roads and buildings, that makes lots of sense, but in the complete absence of people, we actually lose out in our ecosystems. We harm them. I think a lot about when we removed wolves from Yellowstone, how that harmed beavers and how they’re a keystone species. I think about Silent Spring, I think about Braiding Sweetgrass, like all these books and authors come up for me, and it’s so true, like we ourselves are squishy mammals.

We exist in this environment as well. We are part of this ecosystem. We have something to contribute. In our advanced-tool-making stage and in our ability to really disrupt an ecosystem, we carry a huge obligation and responsibility to tend to that ecosystem and to exist in reverent reciprocity and relationship with those other plants and insects and everything, the elements, and really understand them as other beings that deserve respect and equity and dignity as well, right?

Like I think again, back to that creation story of rain, this element. This element of rain, fog, thunderstorms, wind, and then this little ecosystem that is water, and all that is happening in it, and how we depend on it, and really recognizing that we are a big chunk of water. What is it, 80 percent? We’re a lot of water. Like that is us.

Sarah Beck: That’s the squishy part.

Michelle Week: Yeah and we are it and it is us. Really just holding this deeper relationship and really fulfilling our responsibilities to that reverent relationship I think is really important when we are thinking about anything in our daily lives or how we go about existing in this place.

Sarah Beck: I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about some of the endemic plants that connect to the story of food sovereignty and decolonizing diets. What are some plant stories you can tell us, are you introducing some foods to some of your CSA members that perhaps they hadn’t experienced before?

Michelle Week: Yeah, absolutely, and to that, like, we’ve been able to distribute some foods that our Indigenous Native CSA members haven’t had since they lived on the reservation or since their grandparents were alive.

Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Credit: NatureShutterbug CC

Receiving those comments back have been so touching and so important to the work that I’m trying to do, really trying to focus on our visibility and our continued existence. There’s so much erasure of Natives. I’m always surprised when I see polls and people think that all Native people are extinct. We’re everywhere. You just may not always recognize us, right? Like we come in all mixed ancestries and shapes, sizes, colors, like we’re around.

Indigeneity, to some extent, is kinship and ancestry-related but is also this lived experience and worldview, right, and having a shared story and history. We talk a lot about blood quantum in the community and it kind of dilutes or wants to find an absolute. And if you don’t meet an absolute, you’re diluted out of kinship and relationship. Really exploring that and welcoming all of my relatives in, regardless of any of the political contexts around that, has been really empowering, and I think really important to the community in being seen and in combating that erasure and in uplifting our continued existence and our modern, contemporary lives, as they are today.

So some of those foods that I like to bring forward are nettles (Urtica dioica), which we are able to grow really successfully. We do grow on our farm in more of a high-intensive, mixed-vegetable market garden style of organic small farming practices. So that can look like single whole rows and whole blocks of a particular crop, and not necessarily this amoeba-shape of a garden or a yard full of native plants, or what we find out in nature, this more mixture and party bag of all these different plants. So it’s a little more grid for efficiency.

But nettles are really successful in that space. Lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium). Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). We do have a row of camas lily (Camassia) in our fields as well. And then we expanded.

I really wanted to focus on Pacific Northwest foods. I don’t own land, I lease it, which is its own special type of grief that we experience on the farm and navigate daily, renting stolen land from my ancestors.

I find it hard to commit to when I don’t know how long. My leases are renewed annually, once a year, and I was told I have up to five years on this particular property, but with a one-year guarantee. That’s not a lot and I don’t have a lot of faith that I could put out there to put into items like salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), Oregon grape (Mahonia spp.), elderberry (Sambucus spp.). There are so many other wonderful perennial Native foods that I would love to uplift, and since I couldn’t fully really commit to focusing on Pacific Northwest natives, which are mostly perennial, I started to expand out, especially as I’ve connected more deeply with my urban Native community. And we have every tribe, every tribe in the United States is represented here in Portland metro.

I started to expand out to their traditional foods. So we have Cherokee gourdseed corn (Zea mays), Seminole pumpkin (Curcurbita moschata), Hidatsa dry beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). So I’ve really tried to bring in those stories, right, and recognize that we have Indigenous communities south of the American border, down through Mexico and South America. Those are Indigenous peoples, the first peoples of those lands and many of them are the migrant workers that work here in our fields. So really uplifting and sharing that origin story and those stories of those foods. So we have a purple Frog Island Nation fava bean (Vicia faba) that we grow, and that comes from Guatemala, and that’s kind of where that story ends.

I really have to like, get into a library and dig real, real, real deep to really try to find the origin story of a lot of these foods, because I do find it’s true that you go into an elementary classroom and you ask kids, where did tomatoes come from? Or where do carrots come from? And they don’t know that carrots pop out of the dirt, and they don’t pop out like baby carrots, or that tomatoes aren’t Italian, they’re South American.

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis). Credit: pfly CC
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) Credit: Malcolm Manners CC

Sarah Beck: Right, yeah, the crop wild relative education is clearly missing from most of our education systems, unfortunately.

Michelle Week: Yeah. So that’s a lot of our work that we do on the farm too, is just finding varieties that were traded along long, ancient trade routes and were tended to by our tribal communities and growing those out to a capacity that I can share that for people to incorporate into their weekly meals. And that is huge.

Like, these are varieties you do not find in grocery stores or specialty stores. You just simply don’t find them unless you grow them yourself and again, a lot of our community doesn’t necessarily have access to a balcony, even, let alone a yard or a community garden space to grow these foods in.

That’s a lot of what we’re doing on the farm, is trying to grow these varieties, share these stories, share recipes on how to use them, and continue to uplift our continued thriving existence.

Sarah Beck: Well, I’m curious what the response has been around some of the flavors that people are experiencing for the first time.

Michelle Week: Yeah. People loved the nettle pesto we shared.

Sarah Beck: Nice, I love nettles.

Michelle Week: And there was a lot of caution put out with that because they do sting a little.

Sarah Beck: You’ve got to get them into the hot water without touching them.

Michelle Week: Yeah. Yeah, but that received a lot of love and feedback. The miner’s lettuce is quite hilarious. People love it, and it’s also kind of succulent-like.

Sarah Beck: So are they anxious about taste? Is it sort of an uncertainty?

Michelle Week: It’s like a texture. It has a funky texture to it and that can be a new and unique, and that’s usually, they’re like, “That was an experience.” I think they’ll keep eating it, but they were like, “We don’t have that succulent-like texture in our diets.”

Sarah Beck: Yeah. I don’t know that there’s an analogy of a food that people would go, “Oh yeah, this is just like something else.” You’re doing some beans, that’s fantastic.

Michelle Week: Yeah. The beans always seem to thrive. Our bush bean varieties always overwhelm us.

Sarah Beck: So much work. So much picking.

Michelle Week: Yeah, it is. Yeah. I think that’s a piece of our agriculture system real people really forget, or not forget, they’re unaware that so much of their food is handpicked.

So we grow the scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus), which is also known as a bearpaw bean in the Indigenous community, and we do grow—again, as like a process of grief—the Cherokee Trail of Tears bean (P. vulgaris). And those both do wonderful on the farm. They get eight-plus-feet tall. I can’t trellis that high. The hummingbirds love it and there’s just so much life in that space and so many beautiful flowers and aromas.

All of those beans are great green, and they taste pretty classic to any other pole green bean, but they come with that story and this thriving life in this biodiverse farm setting, right? And I get to tell that story and talk about it, whether it’s not awesome and it’s an honest take on our history and where we’ve come from, or if it’s this beautiful rediscovery and reconnection.

I say this often about a lot of the foods we grow. We actually grow an Apache red bunching onion (Allium cepa). I can’t find much history on this onion. What I have kind of put together is, I think they called it Apache because it’s red skinned, and that’s not necessarily like a really awesome reason to name something after an Indigenous community.

But so much of our knowledge and so much of our varieties were destroyed, were taken, were burned, and we were forced into boarding schools to forget, that there’s some reclamation happening where I’m like, you know, that’s not the best reason to name that, but who doesn’t love an onion or a red onion or a bunching onion? Like, all right, that’s ours now. That’s our community’s now. That’s going to be us. We’re going to carry that story. We’re going to celebrate the Apache people and everything they have thrived through, and it’s this doorway to opening a conversation and a celebration instead, and I think that’s so important.

I think about that with the Inchelium garlic (Allium sativum) we grow on the farm. Inchelium is the city and on the Colville Confederated Tribes’ reservation. They found the garlic there, possibly abandoned, possibly brought over by settlers, possibly it was here long before that. I think trade routes are amazing and they spanned across the world so long ago.

We know that people were trade-routing from all the way down from South America up to the North Americas, and we know, precontact, that people were traveling from Eurasia and the Pacific Islands across to the Northwest and we find evidence of those trades and those contacts.

So I just think of this garlic and I’m like, okay. Like it was found thriving, climate-adapted to my reservation, to my homelands, and again, who doesn’t love garlic? I always double garlic in a recipe. I love it and I love that this garlic comes and is celebrated and so deeply tied with my tribe and my reservation. So I love growing it for that.

Scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) Credit: Maja Dumat CC
Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana) Credit: Colin Durfee CC

Sarah Beck: The origins of so many foods have such interesting journeys, as you mentioned. I mean, I think in so many ways as people, we’ve got to find ways to celebrate those stories and those intersections, too.

Michelle Week: Yeah. I don’t think we’re getting rid of cinnamon or coffee or sugar from our diets anytime soon, right? Like the traditional spices of the spice routes. They’re not going anywhere. We’re all enjoying them. I love that they can become adaptive to new places and spread across the world with our communities.

And again, like we are all, especially in America, a mixture of ancestry. I think really being able to dive into that food fusion and that history fusion and that cultural fusion is really exciting and fun, and that’s where we get to take tradition and also innovate and explore and imagine a new celebratory future together and what that looks like.

Sarah Beck: You said some things a few minutes ago about the perennial crops. I think the tradition of perennial food crops is itself, from a soil perspective, I mean, we’re talking about plants that have a really gentle use of the environment. I mean, these are plants that you’re not tilling constantly. You’ve got this you’ve got this ability to build up soil.

And yet there is this challenge, so let’s talk about—and again, I think the Headwaters Farm incubation program is a really notable and interesting story in and of itself. Maybe we should just start there, if you want to share a little bit about just what this program is and where it exists, so we have a little bit of context.

Michelle Week: Yeah. It’s a farm business incubation program on 30 acres, I think, of land in Gresham, Oregon, just outside of Portland. It’s owned and operated by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, a mouthful, and it exists and it has been building over the past decade to support beginning farmers in developing their business and growing their markets so that they can continue on.

The unfortunate aspect of it is that because it has a five-year limit, it’s been a real struggle for people to continue on, because they can’t afford the cost of land. The price of land.

Sarah Beck: And to back up, the reason why this program exists. I mean, I think many of us in the Pacific region, especially on the West Coast, understand that the real estate here is pretty tough for anyone to imagine purchasing a home, but the idea of having a piece of property large enough to grow food on, that’s a significant barrier.

Michelle Week: Yeah, it exists for land access for these new beginning farmers.

Sarah Beck: This is pretty huge, and I think to delve into talking about having land available for growers, this feeling just of having to struggle so hard, or you have to be so creative to find a way to access land, when you’re also identifying this cultural history of relationship to that land and stewardship of that land.

It must feel like such a strange conflict, in a way.

Michelle Week: It’s a lot to navigate. Yeah. Yeah. It can be really disheartening and really saddening and really frustrating to really struggle to gain access to land that my ancestors had free access to, who tended to this land, and this land and this ecosystem became so deeply ingrained in our culture and community as well.

A lot of the Oregon white oaks and camas lily fields, they coexisted in similar spaces. Lots of other plants, such as fiddlehead ferns (Pteridium aquilinum, Athyrium filix-femina, Matteuccia struthiopteris) and Nootka roses (Rosa nootkana), and those salmonberries and thimbleberries and Oregon grapes, continue and continue, thrived in these savanna spaces, and those were culturally burned.

We managed that forested wilderness space intentionally, and we’ve only recently really come back with our natural resources and forestry service in doing controlled burning. And more so recently, bringing Natives back to do those controlled, but so deeply important cultural practices, and deep relationship work with the land.

And so for me to struggle with access to land to grow food, to nourish my community, to continue to celebrate and perpetuate our Indigenous varieties of foods is difficult and it’s sad, but we keep forging forward. I think there’s a lot more movement right now in the #LandBack campaigns for Indigenous peoples, and generally equitable land access, and in preserving farmland more broadly as well.

It’s going to take all peoples from all cultural backgrounds to grow and build a resilient and solid food system for our urban centers. I really hope that we can continue to advocate for good land use zoning laws and policy actions with our elected officials in that way.

This property itself the, the board of directors are elected. As you mentioned, it’s a public entity. We elect the board members, and it is funded by taxpayer dollars, that’s why I bring up the elected officials. I do think it is really brilliant and sustaining to have our taxpayers support programs like this.

When they purchased the property, it was used all the way up to the edge of the North Fork of the Johnson Creek and we know that that’s not great for pollution, water runoff, erosion. It was destroying that ecosystem and riparian habitat. So since the conservation district took it over, they’ve expanded that conservation and riparian habitat around it.

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias). Credit: James St John CC

And we have beautiful, great blue herons (Ardea herodias) that have babies and, side note, they nest 100 feet up in Douglas-fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii), wildest thing to watch.

Sarah Beck: That must look a little bit awkward.

Michelle Week: It’s very awkward. I’m impressed they land in those trees. We have a beaver family. There’s so many songbirds, and I really appreciate that.

And farming even in a more Western colonial sense, had more hedgerows and more riparian habitat and more forest and mixtured spaces, up until the Great Depression and then the Green Revolution, and into the twentieth century we went. I think that this is a great example and an active, practical example of what we can do to kind of revert back to and continue a more participatory place in the ecosystems in which we reside.

I do appreciate it. I appreciate they’ve been able to leverage all that taxpayer dollars and all that their weight and organizational resources to build out infrastructure and maintain it and even hire a facilities manager. I am disappointed that we only have up to five years here, and I think that if we could maybe transition and utilize a model of cooperative ownership or follow along with the AgriCommons model of how they are sharing land access with 99-year-long leases that can be handed off intergenerationally.

I think there’s some creative ways where we can create permanence for farmers, so that farmers can be more committed to tending the soil and its nutrition, and more committed to tending those different pollinator and insect and bird and riparian and other habitats for our other kin who live in this space.

I find lots of benefit with the great blue herons living nearby. They eat field mice. They eat moles. They eat voles. And so do the coyotes, right? The coyotes are really good at getting those rabbits and other mice and other critters, as well. So making sure that they have somewhere safe to seek refuge in the heat of the day or during our busy active time, and that they can come out into the fields and we can share the space, and live and cohabitate, is very important.

So I think that there are some good models out there, and I think if we could start to interweave them, we can get closer to hitting a really good way of moving forward. I think right now, everybody individually are kind of slightly missing the mark, and I see that as a symptom. I think we’re all still just shaking out the like hyper-individualism of the American expansion project.

Sarah Beck: We garden futurists, we love a model, and the idea of a model that’s replicable, a model that could be replicated throughout the Pacific region in any city or town. You really have started to touch on this. What does it look like when all of these pieces work together and how else do you see some of these ideas being able to expand around food sovereignty and cultural awareness?

Michelle Week: Yeah, I definitely have been thinking a lot about little tidbits here and there. There’ve been little pushes through various organizations over the years and individuals about farming as a public service.

I really think about that because I think food is a human right, and what is it then to make sure that all people, all community members, have access to food? Not just food as we have access to it, but really seeking that food sovereignty, right? Really seeking that culturally relevant and defined by that community sustainable good food. Each community is going to define that differently. They’re going to seek out different varieties. They’re going to want to approach farming and the growing and tending of that food differently, as well as they should. There’s many geographies out there and they are not all the same.

I think we’re close here, right? We have taxpayer dollars supporting this program. So I think there are examples. We have lots of action happening in school gardens and even gardens in correctional facilities, and gardens at hospitals.

Maybe we can start to crack that open into more, higher yield, higher production but also bring in different partners and community members of lived experience and of a diverse background and experience to inform what does that food sovereignty really look like, right? What does food equity really look like? And make sure that everyone can have access to that food.

So I want sustained long-term land access, which in this current paradigm is land ownership, but that’s not necessarily like our culture values. Our, as in like Natives broadly, or my personal values of owning.

Like when I own land, I am a landlord, then, to the coyotes and to the great blue herons and the moles and the voles and the flea beetles. We may not like love everyone the same, maybe, but they’re all playing a role in this home that we’re making, right, and recognizing that and supporting that I think is really important.

So I don’t know if, as farming becomes a public service, does the land then be held in the commons of the public? And then how do we equitably parse out that land so that people of color, Black and Indigenous and Asian Pacific Islander, the Latine community, all have access to that land to farm for their communities as well, and be able to farm foods that are important to their communities, that their communities crave and salivate over? I think is really an interesting future prospect we can dream up.

I don’t think we’ve ever been so intermixed culturally and ancestrally as we are now. And I think this will always be true for all humans and all generations. We’re all in a new uncharted territory as we continue to imagine and dream up what this future can be for future generations.

Sarah Beck: I think a really powerful part of this conversation was when Michelle and I were talking about the structures that allow access to land, and when we talk about the contemporary world we live in and, you know, who has access to land and land ownership being, a really big part of the conversation, she revealed that land ownership wasn’t really her goal or wasn’t the piece of the conversation that she most wanted to have.

She brings something really fresh to this conversation by bringing up something that is a not at all new idea, it’s an Indigenous perspective on land stewardship.

Adrienne St. Clair: This idea of holding that space within the system that is not built for holding that space, I think is such an intriguing and difficult concept to wrestle with, and so trying to find ways within the system that was truly built to only benefit a very small group of people and try and find those novel ways of working within it.

I was really moved by that idea, and I love that her work in how she’s considering what food to grow, that she’s bringing all these foods from all over the Americas and growing them, and how that really represents this urban Indigenous community that is also from all over the Americas and have found themselves in this place.

Sarah Beck: Oh, I so agree. I loved how Michelle brought questions to our conversation that I think we can all explore. There’s more than one way to think about this conversation about land. And again, you know, she acknowledges there are these structures, there’s these municipal structures, there’s private land ownership structures, there’s leasing, there’s all these things, but I think within our current landscape, there is some flexibility.

As hard as it is to have these conversations, there’s such an amazing optimism that I feel having conversations like this. And to bring in that absolutely essential Indigenous perspective, having a new way of thinking about food sovereignty access. We’re going to dig into stories about plants and we’re not always going to like what we find, and we’re not going to hate plants. We’re going to find a way to move forward and to create some new meaning around plants that matter to us.

Adrienne St. Clair: The stories that I’ve heard about this, the Indigenous urban community in particular, are stories of survival and resilience and ingenuity, and I think that Michelle’s stories with us today are just this perfect encapsulation of all of that.

Sarah Beck: Well, thank you to Michelle Week for a great conversation, and thanks everyone for listening. We appreciate you being part of our conversation.

Resources

Michelle Week recommends supporting local farmers by visiting farmers markets and joining CSAs. She recommends that farms themselves offer “pre-cooked and ready-to-eat meals” to increase accessibility.

For more information about x̌ast sq̓it, visit the Good Rain Farm website. In 2022, Ecotrust recognized Week’s work with both its Indigenous Leadership Award and the Viviane Barnett Fellowship for Food System Leaders.

Good Rain Farm

Indigenous Leadership Award

Viviane Barnett Fellowship for Food System Leaders.

Other farms and gardens mentioned include:

Headwaters Farm – Read our article; Growing a New Generation of Farmers, One Plot at a Time here.

NAYA Family Center food sovereignty community gardening

Listen to Garden Futurist Episode XVII: Finding Connection to Place through Indigenous Knowledge with Judy Bluehorse Skelton here.

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