Is your tribal community or your farming/ranching operations ready to expand your cultural impact and your economic base? Agritourism development might be right for your tribal community.
Tourism represents a unique opportunity for job creation and cultural tourists—the fastest growing segment of the industry—who want to experience tribal lands, art and food. One means to increase cultural visitors to your community is through agritourism—food product packaging and distribution, festivals, tours and farmers markets.
Agritourism experiences include a broad array of activities and experiences. For example, activities could include a farm or ranch stay, educational workshops, hunting and fishing, horseback riding, u-pick farms, farm-to-table dining, packaged food products and other forms of agri-entertainment. For tribal communities, the benefits go beyond a potential source of increased farming income. There is significant interest in promoting and supporting culturally specific agricultural techniques and historic plant varieties across native nations. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, farming also represents an area of growth in Native communities, particularly for those Native farmers/ranchers that are principal operators (37,851 in 2012) with a 9 percent increase from 2007 to 2012.
Like any new venture, there is a lot of business planning and research to understand the rules and regulations, insurance requirements, feasibility, capacity and sustainability. Once you have determined what form of agritourism is right for your enterprise or community, careful planning and feasibility assessments need to be considered.
One tribe that has successfully entered into tribal agritourism is the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.
Oneida Nation has a rich heritage of farming to sustain families and communities. With a dedicated “community first” approach, the Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems (OCIFS) is providing sustenance for its community through the production of traditional crops honoring their Creation Story.
The creation story says the beginning of our Mother Earth occurred when Sky Woman fell from a hole near the Tree of Life. When she was falling from her world, she took with her seeds of various plant life. The seeds that Sky Woman brought with her began to grow into the plants and herbal life needed for survival. Plants grown from those first seeds included corn, beans and squash, and became the Three Sisters for tribal people. They are the main providers for the tribe’s sustenance. Tribal tradition calls for honoring these sustainers.
OCIFS was established in 1994 to bring together existing farming operations and build impact. The development process began with the forming of an initial task force to address issues associated with poverty as well as the health problems that existed on the Oneida reservation related to diet. Taking a phased, responsive approach to development, OCIFS have grown into the following working components: Oneida Nation Farm (which includes bison and cattle), Oneida Tsyunhehkwa Center, Oneida Apple Orchard, Oneida Food Distribution Program, Oneida School System and Oneida Market. In addition to providing historic crops and a variety of organic food products, OCIFS provides community-based food production, education, youth programs, employment and opportunities to engage with local, regional, national and international visitors interested in experiential learning and activities.
OCIFS has had tremendous impact on the community. In addition to providing direct employment for 27 people, the local production of culturally relevant foods provides healthy alternatives for the community that preserves the health and well-being of community members. For example, one of the many impacts of their operations include the continuation of the planting and harvesting of Oneida’s white corn, which originates from corn seeds descended from crops planted in the 1600s; the seed has been carefully managed and protected for over 2,000 years to keep the genetics pure. The corn is hand harvested, braided and dried and is about three to four times the size of a kernel of corn found on a cob of sweet corn. It is traditionally grown, harvested and enjoyed in a variety of Oneida food staples. From a nutritional perspective, Oneida’s white corn contains approximately 16 grams of protein in one serving, compared to its counterpart, sweetcorn, with only 6 grams. All food products, including Oneida’s white corn, are sold at the Oneida Market where members of the Oneida Nation and visitors can purchase traditional Oneida foods, made by the people, for the people, in order to sustain the people.
Additional agritourism programming includes tours, a large commercial farm and the Tsyunhehkwa organic farm. In 2009, the Oneida Apple Orchard started the Big Apple Fest, which has grown into its largest event, which attracts over 8,000 people. It is a day filled with farm animals, horse entertainment, Oneida Farmers Market, apple pie contest, live music, horse and wagon rides and pick-your-own apples.
If you want to learn more about the Oneida Nation, visit its website at exploreoneida.com, come to the Big Apple Fest on Sept. 16, 2017 at 3676 W. Mason St., in Green Bay, or stop by the Oneida Market at 501 Packerland Dr., Green Bay.
As you begin your research for developing, enhancing or expanding your agritourism programming and product, two places to start are the Native Food Systems Resource Center at nativefoodsystems.org and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Research and Education Program (SARE) at sare.org.
In 2017, AIANTA will also be launching a tribal agritourism resource page at aianta.org to provide resources, updates and training information. AIANTA will also be providing technical assistance and training on utilizing NativeAmerica.travel to promote tribal tourism opportunities. NativeAmerica.travel is the only tribal-specific tourism destination website for tribes, tribal members and tribal businesses to promote their tourism product/programming. Contact for this project is Ms. Sandra Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are looking for additional training opportunities, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association’s (AIANTA) annual American Indian Tourism Conference (AITC) will be held September 11-14, 2017 and hosted by the Oneida Tribe at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Programming includes tracks and sessions with expert presentations on developing tribal tourism in your community, along with topic specific trainings including tribal agritourism development and best practices. For more information, please contact AIANTA at email@example.com or visit aitc2017.com.
Hannah Peterson is the development director at the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. Contact AIANTA at (505) 724-3592.