Tribal Food Project

The Tribal Food Project seeks to empower Native American communities with the resources to grow local, healthy and sustainable food. By drawing upon both traditional and modern agricultural methodologies, we partner with schools and communities to develop self-sustaining food production programs. Our goal is to recover and revitalize traditional relationships with the land and diet, and make those resources available and useful within the modern context. Youth participating in our educational programs connect with community elders and their cultural heritage, and learn about land stewardship.


  • Engage students in traditional farming and food production practices through local elders, Native experts and community members.
  • Provide training for community leaders, students, and teachers around modern permaculture and traditional farming methods.
  • Empower youth and community members to grow their own food and develop long-term, self-sustaining gardens with foods native to their homeland, and provide school cafeterias with food from school gardens.
  • Empower youth to become “ambassadors” to other schools and communities for sustainable community development around three key areas: personal health and social benefits of sustainable food and traditional Native diets, environmental awareness and responsibility, and expanding the role of youth leadership.
  • Document traditional agricultural methods, food celebrations, recipes and stories, promoting better understanding of tribal identity and sociality as created by and through food.

One of the benefits of the Tribal Food Project is that it reconnects the youth and their families to their agricultural heritage through the cultivation of community gardens. Bringing the youth back to their culture’s traditional teachings about food contributes to good health practices, increased self-awareness and self-esteem.

Right now there is a critical need for obesity-prevention programs targeted toward American Indian children as obesity has been increasing in the Native American population, especially among young people. Obesity is a major risk factor for both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. On average, 30% of all adult Native Americans are obese, the highest rate of obesity among any group in America. Type 2 diabetes is one of the most serious health problems for Native Americans in the United States.

Work to Date:

In June 2011, a team of Native American elders, permaculture experts, community organizers, food sovereignty activists, fundraisers and community development specialists gathered with the teachers and administrators of the Dilcon Community School on a Navajo reservation in Arizona to initiate a Tribal Food Project. Prior to this gathering the school and community had identified the need to reconnect local youth to their food traditions and create better access to healthy food for these students and the broader community.

Members of the school community conveyed the importance of traditional Navajo teachings about food, especially corn. In addition to starting a school garden, the team identified the potential for a large-scale community farm as a long-term goal. The Dilcon Community School is the largest institution within the Dilcon area, and is well positioned to support both a school garden and community farm.

Last spring, the Tribal Food Project team facilitated the beginnings of a school garden at the Dilcon Community School. Students planted corn and squash, and were delighted and enthusiastic as they watched the garden grow. This past year we have been researching how to make such garden projects sustainable in the long term. We are developing partnerships with colleges and other organizations that will help accomplish this goal.

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