A Partnership: Oneida and the CommNS

Basket of vegetables in the sunlight

In the summer of 2014, a collaborative effort was formed between University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty member Alfonso Morales (Urban and Regional Planning and the School of Human Ecology) and the Oneida Tribe, making it possible to advance two different projects for the tribe – a Food Systems Plan for the Nation, and a Food Center Building Design Project, to support their cultural interest in food, provide an environment for food entrepreneurs, and to stimulate economic activity. The project is now underway under the guidance of Dr. Morales, supported by the Nelson Institute and two USDA grants, the Community and Regional Food Systems project and the “Indicators for Impact” project, and hosted the UW-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (“the CommNS”).

The Oneida community suffers disproportionately from diabetes. However, there are many efforts in place to reverse this trend. The resurgence of traditional agriculture (Tsyunhehkw^) is one such effort, as well as health and wellness programs, such as Just Move It Oneida. A food system that is able to increase the supply of locally produced healthy foods will be culturally meaningful as well as supportive of Tribal economic and health related goals. This month, the UW graduate and undergraduate students involved in the project made a second site visit to the Oneida reservation to share draft plans and documents for critique from tribe partners. Here is their report from their productive visit.

The day was split between the morning session and the afternoon session. In the morning, Riley Balikian and Jessica Buechler, graduate students in the Urban and Regional Planning Program, along with undergraduate student Tony Castagnoli, worked with project partners to review the elements of the Integrated Food System project and exchanged thoughts on the various elements proposed for the Oneida Nation. Those participating from Oneida were Leanne Doxtater, Ted Skenandore, Jeff Witte, Stacie Danforth, Bill Ver Voort, and Troy Parr.

The group discussed the use of aquaponics (combining hydroponics and aquaculture in a symbiotic food production system) for the purpose of education of tribal youth and to incorporate fish into the planned food system. The group also explored the use of a berry farm and edible landscape. The group also discussed expanding and encouraging composting through potential Oneida mandates that certain establishments participate in composting. In general, there are myriad opportunities to educate the community on various food-related issues while also developing food systems. Efforts could be focused on uses of herbal medicines, processing hunted game, composting, harvesting fruits, and gardening vegetables.

Potential partners can be leveraged to achieve the goals of the project, including the local elementary school to the Sanger B. Powers Correctional Facility. While the food system development will be attractive as a feature to visit and interact with, the key focus is a sustainable food producing system, and should be developed with that goal in mind.

Between the morning session and the afternoon work sessions, the group conducted two site visits: one to the old BP site where the proposed Food Center Building will be, and one to the Tysunhehkwa farm where we saw the various features of their production.

In the afternoon, Jessica presented proposed design concepts for the Food Center Building project. The participants were Jessica Buechler, Riley Balikian, Tony Castagnoli, Leanne Doxtater, Jeff Witte, Stacie Danforth, Joanie Buckley, and Fidel Delgado (of the USDA supporting from Washington, D.C.). After reviewing the initial concepts as presented by Jessica, the group began the process of participatory design, involving all stakeholders in the process. Through this session various elements about the design of the Food Center were determined. Through collaborative methods, it was decided that a pedestrian overpass that will allow for safe road traversal will be included in the design, and that the restaurant/café and cannery to be included should be invisible placements to attract community members. Parking, air circulation, and elements of the entrepreneurial kitchen, stormwater management, and planting plans were also explored and ideas refined. More research needs to be done on some of these elements, and the team will have a chance to conduct that investigation before its next meeting in December.

The team is energized about their vision and the way that the project will have a positive impact on the Oneida community, and will have more impacts and details to share as they move through the next phase of the project. The Oneida Food System project is just one of many examples of CommNS collaboration among UW leaders and community leaders to promote healthy communities.

For more information contact:

Professor Alfonso Morales, Center Affiliate

Mary Beth Collins, Director of Public Policy

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