Reflecting on the Oneida Integrated Food System Progress

A box of apples at a fruit stand frames a view of people strolling along a walkway through the food

The partnership that emerged last summer between UW Urban Planning Faculty Member and SoHE CommNS Affiliate Alfonso Morales and the Oneida Tribe has been evolving significantly throughout the past few months. With support from two USDA Grants, Community and Regional Food Systems project and the “Indicators for Impact” project, and the UW-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (“the CommNS”), the resulting project has explored what a culturally meaningful, economically sustainable, and healthy food system would look like for the Oneida Nation. To address the overall challenge of developing facilities that would engage community members’ consumption of locally sourced food products, Integrated Food Systems Project Manager and UW-Madison Graduate Student Riley Balikian and Food Center Building Lead Architect and UW-Madison Graduate Student Jessica Buechler each took on responsibilities.

From the time the UW-Madison team visited Oneida on November 12th, 2014, to the most recent visit when the team presented its work to Oneida’s various community leaders, significant efforts were made to direct the project in a way that reflected the ideas presented and exchanged among tribal members and the project team. The idea of “right size, right place” proposed by one of the tribe’s planning members served the UW-Madison team during their efforts. By understanding the needs of the Oneida Nation in regards to their sovereign cultural identity, it was possible to center the goal of this project on reestablishing culture through the advancement of an authentic and appropriate food system.

Riley’s goals of enhancing Oneida’s Integrated Food System had him focusing on a large-scale and researching various GIS-related data in order to determine ideal locations for his proposed design elements. This was in addition to having already incorporated research on the existing IFS and Oneida’s history regarding food and seasonal festivities. Because his elements were presented in November with no objections, Riley expanded them by delegating each into a branch of the food cycle:

  • food disposal; composting, refuse
  • food production
  • food processing and preparation
  • food distribution
  • food consumption
  • back to food disposal

Along with determining the role of each proposed element in the food cycle, Riley researched the benefits of integrating them in the Oneida community. These six identified benefits, or “lenses”, were identified for improving the health, the economy, and the cultural sovereignty of Oneida. In determining the future of the Oneida Food System, Riley identified several “special development areas” that are highlighted in the final plan. Undergraduate student and project assistant Tony Castagnoli’s designs of various elements and graphics highlighting the food cycle can be seen in Riley’s plan.

Regarding Jessica’s responsibilities, the food center building portion of the project evolved significantly from the conceptual arrangements to its final design. In November, a particular layout was proposed to members of the Oneida planning team, as well as Fidel Delgado from USDA. The feedback was helpful for not only the design specifics, such as keeping parking on the periphery of the site, but for reaffirming the purpose of the food center building. It was determined that the building and its surrounding site must be multi-dimensional, but also must be economically self-sustaining. Identifying the drivers of Jessica’s design as the cannery, the entrepreneurial kitchen, and the café, led to her prioritizing these spaces in the building in regards to the square footage. The Farmer’s Market element was also considered a driver, and after a consensus was reached on its position in context with the rest of the site, Jessica modified this element of the building to reflect the consensus and allowed for outside space in its design, as well. In addition, various innovative ideas were proposed to the food center building. These included green walls, green roofs, aquaponics, hydroponics, heat conservation with a greenhouse, and most notably a street overpass that would connect the site to the Norbert Hill Center and its green space just south of the adjacent road. These elements, together, would allow for greater sustainability and walkability for the residents of central Oneida.

At one point, a name-change for the food center building was requested. The “Oneida Life Sustenance Community Center” was agreed upon because it reflected the goals of this project; establishing a gathering place to celebrate food enriches and sustains the life of each individual along with the life of the entire community. Tony was responsible for the research on innovative ideas regarding green walls, green roofs, aqua- and hydroponics, and also efforts for stormwater management and phytoremediation in assistance to Jessica’s design.

When presenting the final project of both the large-scale Integrated Food Center future and the small-scale Life Sustenance Community Center site, each member of the UW-Madison team shared their contributions to the project with many of Oneida’s civic leaders from various branches of the tribe’s government. The proposals sparked interest in how the Integrated Food system could be improved as well as the various benefits of the Life Sustenance Community Center for the local economy and its current, and future, food producers. In consideration of how to successfully implement this vision, various partnerships with nearby institutions were discussed, as well.

The UW-Madison team will next be presenting this work at the Nelson Institute organized UW/Native Nations Summit on Environment and Health that will take place on March 12-13 at the Fluno Center.


For more information please contact Professor Alfonso Morales, affiliate of the Center


(Alfonso Morales, Jessica Buechler, Riley Balikian, and Tony Castagnoli: UW-Madison team)


  • Debi Griffin says:

    Has there been any discussion of doing this with other communities in the state, such as LCO, Bad River, Red Cliff, Mole Lake, Menominee, and elsewhere?

  • Alfonso Morales says:

    Hi Debi,
    No, we’ve not been approached. I’d be happy to engage folks from those other communities. EMAIL ME!

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