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Student Blog: Slow Food Turtle Island

This summer, Civil Society and Community Research graduate student Becca Dower is helping the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) develop a tribally-supported agriculture program—or TSA—to distributes Native American produced goods to Native American communities. During this time, she will be conducting preliminary research with funding from SoHE’s Summer Time Academic Research (STAR) Award, supported by the Catherine K. Sheehan Fund. Read her previous posts: 123, 4.

We set off in the Mobile Farmers Market van bound for Colorado, fully loaded with rice, corn, syrup, beans and an assortment of other Native-produced foods. Our final destination was Slow Food Nations, a food festival centered on the Slow Food movement’s mission of good, clean, and fair food for all. Our role was with Slow Food Turtle Island, a group Indigenous people working with food systems on Turtle Island (North America). On our way to Denver, we visited the Meskwaki and Winnebego settlements of Iowa and Nebraska respectively. In both communities, we set up the food stand alongside some of the local food venders working to get Native-produced foods and fresh produce to community members.

Becca, Michelle, Liz and Emma, Meskwaki settlement, Iowa
(from left) Becca, Michelle, Liz, and Emma at the Meskwaki settlement, Iowa.

Upon reaching Denver, Slow Food Turtle Island set up in Larimer Square, downtown. Our space in the festival consisted of the Mobile Farmers Market stand, a food vending tent, and some of the Native producers our cooperative works with. Passersby could order plates of bison, grilled rabbit, three sisters salad and amaranth pudding with berries. A team of Indigenous chefs including Loretta Oden, Kristina Stanley, Ben Jacobs, Matt Chandra and Andrea Murdoch cooked up the food for the festival. Ben and Matt are the co-owners of Tocabe, an American Indian eatery based in Denver. Tocabe has become a Denver staple for me while I travel through Colorado. My go-to meal consists of a wild rice bowl topped with hominy and chilies with an order of fry bread nuggets to dip in a bowl of Wojapi, a traditional berry soup, for dessert. One of the coolest things about Tocabe is the number of Native producers they source their ingredients from, including Ramona Farms, who are also set up in our Turtle Island festival tent. Ramona and her daughter, Velvet, put together a stunning display of their produce grown on the Gila River Reservation in Arizona, complete with a kokopelli design made with their farm-grown tepary beans. In our downtime I enjoy speaking with Ramona and Velvet about life running their farm, which Ramona started 42 years ago.

As the Mobile Famers Market travels between Native communities and Indigenous food initiatives, we continue to hear stories of people’s relationship to place. Foodways are based in this relationship, held through oral tradition and reciprocity between all our relations. Different regions tell stories of different foraged foods, the ceremonies around their use, and the way the community prepares them. As we begin to realize the diversity of Turtle Island, we can also recognize the common values of maintaining a place to care for our plant and food relatives among Indigenous people. Biodiversity is diminishing at staggering rates. Building cooperatives that support our traditional foodways can help us retain traditional plants and our relationship to place as we work to defend the Earth.

Becca Dower is a Civil Society and Community Research (CSCR) graduate student at SoHE. With support from the STAR Award, Becca will spend the summer conducting preliminary data collection in order to understand feasibility and desire for community distribution sites. She’ll then work with community members to establish accessible site locations.


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