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Food, agriculture summit educates Native youth

Food, agriculture summit educates Native youth
QUAPAW, Okla. – Now in its fourth year, the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit continues to teach Native students about food and agriculture while introducing them to tribes and programs that work within those industries. 

This year the summit was held July 16-25 and had approximately 150 Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students representing 76 tribes. 

While attending, students could tour animal and food sciences labs as well as horticulture and freight farm programs at the University of Arkansas. They also toured the Quapaw Tribe’s food and agriculture facilities.

Summit counselor Odessa Oldham said the summit is important because it highlights the significance of learning about food and agriculture. She also said 2017 marked the “biggest” year for attendance.

“The summit is about getting Native American youth involved in agriculture. Embracing our culture and indigenous heritage, more so advocating for education and the importance of food,” she said. “We’ve been getting bigger and bigger. This year is our biggest year.”

The University of Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative sponsors and organizes the summit to give students the opportunity for in-class lectures and hands-on opportunities while helping further their interests in the food and agricultural industries. 

On July 21, students visited the Quapaw Tribe’s facilities, including its greenhouse operations.

“Our whole idea here is to kind of educate them on the diversity that you have in agriculture,” Oldham said. “The significance about this place in particular is that we have bison that the tribe is utilizing.”

Gilbert Johnston, Downstream Casino Resort Greenhouses horticulture manager, said the summit has brought students to the Quapaw’s facilities in previous years, and each time they can see the greenhouses’ growth.

Johnston said he and his team grow all the vegetables for the chefs to use in the casino and provide the casino’s floral. He said the greenhouses also produce honey from on-site bees.

“We normally grow 21 different varieties of herbs,” he said. “We grow potatoes, squash, tribal tobacco, ceremonial red corn. Just a lot of different things.”

The greenhouses were created approximately four years ago, and other than providing for the casino, Johnston said they also donate produce to schools and elder centers.

“The Quapaw Tribe has really put a huge effort into sharing with the community, donating vegetables to the schools, to the elder centers. Really working the area and giving back what we can,” he said.

Cherokee Nation citizen Zachary Ilbery, a Seminole State College agribusiness student, said this is his fourth year attending the summit and it helped him learn more about his field of study.

“Throughout my four years attending the summit I’ve kind of learned the difference in their business aspects. How to build a business plan from the ground up, what you really need to look for,” he said.

Ilbery said he hopes the CN becomes more involved in the agriculture industry.

“Being a Cherokee citizen and seeing the difference that the Quapaw does and getting to interact with the other tribes, I would really like for our tribe to partake more in sustainable agriculture and get more involved in our agriculture industry because agriculture is what feeds us and what clothes us,” he said.

Ilbery also recommended future college students look at the food and agricultural industries.

“There are thousands of jobs being left unfilled within the agricultural industry, and we really need people in it,” he said. “Anywhere from agricultural food sciences, animal science, veterinarians, even agricultural lawyers, we just need a variety of people in our ag community because we need those jobs.”

Oldham said it’s important to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the food and agriculture industries because there is a “disconnect” in today’s society.

“Most youth today are three to four times moved from the land with every generation, and with that becomes food is less important. People don’t understand where their food comes from,” she said. “What we trying to do is not only teach the importance of the food but teach how the farmer and the rancher are important. So for us to say to keep the farmer in business, we’ve got to educate the young youth and keep it going so they can not only learn it, but hopefully they can go and give back to the communities as well.”

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