Children enrolled in Educare Winnebago, the Winnebago Tribe's early childhood program, sit on raised garden beds that were recently delivered to the program on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Winnebago Tribe moves forward with food sovereignty initiatives

'A sweet project'
Winnebago Tribe secures grants to help small businesses and open new market

The Winnebago Tribe’s efforts improve the health of residents on its northeast Nebraska reservation got a significant boost recently when the tribe won a $213,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development grant.

The tribe also has applied for another grant that would cover the remaining costs for an indoor farmers’ market that it plans to build that will provide food and other vendors a place to sell their products.

The USDA grant will allow the tribe to support the establishment of small food-related businesses, such as small farmers, value-added food producers, traditional artisans, crafters and service vendors. The grant also will help the tribe to connect those small business owners with loan capital, business planning and technical assistance.

Those small business owners then likely would use the indoor farmers’ market to sell their products, said Brian Mathers, executive director of the Ho-Chunk Community Development Corporation (HCCDC), which is a nonprofit affiliated with the Winnebago Tribe.

“When you think about all the things to build a local food economy, there are many, many pieces of that,” he said.

Artist's rendering of the Village Market, an indoor farmers market that's a key component of the HoChunk Harvest initiative on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska. Courtesy image

The recent USDA grant follow a grant won by HCCDC that allowed the tribe to complete an 18-month planning initiative related to food sovereignty. That initiative led to the establishment of a coalition of tribal and business enterprises that is now seeking ways to improve the health of people on the Winnebago Reservation.

The effort – called HoChunk Harvest – has included distribution of 120 raised garden beds to Winnebago tribal citizens and programs and the eventual construction of a 4,644-square-foot indoor pavilion called Village Market. The pavilion will be built in the Ho-Chunk Village development adjacent to Nebraska Highway 77 and will have space for 10 indoor vendors, as well as space for exterior vendors.

“We can basically fully fund the building of this structure now, which is awesome,” said Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, vice president of community impact and engagement for Ho-Chunk Inc., the tribe’s economic development corporation. Ho-Chunk Inc. owns Indianz.Com, though the website is not involved in HoChunk Harvest or with the HCCDC.

Mathers said the tribe hopes other grant funds will pay for construction of Village Market. He said he hopes to see the pavilion completed before the 2019 growing season begins.

The Village Market will provide vendors – many of whom currently set up along roadsides in Winnebago and sell everything from sweet corn and popcorn to jewelry and crafts – greater access to customers.

Mathers said HoChunk Harvest and Village Market are becoming high-profile projects for funders and others seeking to improve the health of Native people.

“This is a sweet project to a lot of people,” he said. “It hits a lot of hot buttons.”

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
'It’s been very healing': Yoga classes come to Winnebago Reservation (July 27, 2018)
Winnebago artist Henry Payer taps into tribal history (July 5, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe set to assume control of troubled hospital on reservation (June 27, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe brings gardens to youth on the reservation (May 30, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe works to revitalize Ho-Chunk language for future generations (May 10, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe names executives for takeover of troubled Indian Health Service hospital (May 1, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe takes advantage of new 'Opportunity Zone' designation (April 27, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe fights back in court after 'attack on sovereignty' (April 24, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe promotes food sovereignty for future generations (March 30, 2018)