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Planting the Seeds for Tribal Gardens

Throughout the American Indian Healthy Eating Project, partners and participants told stories of their past or present personal garden and envisioned the potential of community gardens at their tribal lands or within their tribal communities.  As one tribal member shared, a tribal garden captures Sitting Bull (Sioux) vision regarding not only children’s health but also the health of tribal land:  “My children will grow up here, and I am looking ahead for their benefit, and for the benefit of my children’s children too; and even beyond that again.”

Gardens also help families increase their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables while saving money on food costs.  The National Gardening Association estimates a garden can produce a half-pound of vegetables for every square foot with a harvest value estimated to be about $2 a pound.

What is a Community Garden?

A shared space, plot of land, or garden gardened by a group of people.  Community gardens are increasingly used in urban settings where land is limited.  More often, rural communities are exploring collective gardening to address decreasing land options and free time.

Strategies for Successfully Planting the Seeds for a Community Garden

  • Increase Awareness:
    • While most rural youth, adults, and elders are familiar with gardening, not all understand what a community garden is.  Raise awareness of the role a community garden can have in the tribal community through posters, social media, your community newsletter, or church sermons.
  • Organize:
    • Who is interested?
    • What skills and resources can community members contribute?
    • What land location is optimal for most community members to come to, for sun, and for water?
    • How do we know if the soil is safe?
    • How much land is needed to accommodate interested community members growing interests?
    • What do we want to garden?  What adjustments can be made to grow seasonally?
    • How and who will make decisions about the community garden?  If small things surface or if big things need to be decided?  What mechanisms are best used in this community to build consensus in a timely manner?
  • Project Garden Work Load:
    • Learn from expert gardeners and farmers in your tribe and from other community gardens in North Carolina or across the county to understand the different skills and labor involved with the varying stages of gardening.
    • Create a list of interested folks and their skill sets.
    • Propose a potential timeline and work schedule for interested community members.
    • Is the work load feasible for your tribe?  Will this effort be sustainable?
    • Even if you’re focusing on a summer garden, it’s never too early to start planning.

Protect and Prevent Land Loss

Currently, all tribes participating in the American Indian Healthy Eating Project have potential land to cultivate for community gardening!  Land potential is detailed in each tribe’s economic assessment report.  Work with tribal members to maximize this vital resource for short and long term uses!  Consider legal support and technical assistance provided by The Land Loss Prevention Project.  This non-for-profit project aims to help financially distressed and limited resource farmers and landowners in North Carolina.
Also, ensure proper zoning laws support your ability to establish and promote your farmers’ market for maximize visibility!   Raleigh has recently revised zoning laws to encourage the development of more community gardens on surplus city property.  The agreements and contracts between the city and community garden groups would permit temporary use and include permit fees and administrative costs.  If you run into a zoning issue, call Public Health Law and Policy at 510-302-3380 for free technical assistance around healthy planning and policy initiatives.

Starting with the Seeds

Learn about innovative approaches to get seeds donated from tribal members or area farmers or stores.  For a local example, learn about Carrboro Green Space Collective’s Seed Swap—an event where community members are encouraged to come share and trade seeds.

Got Tools?

Got Tools? was a garden tool drive hosted in Raleigh by Advocates for Health in Action.  Join their efforts and implement a similar tool, equipment, and supply drive in your tribal community.  Many members may be willing to donate or borrow necessary tools.  Generate a list of equipment needed to establish a community garden and use tribal meetings and church gatherings to elicit direct contributions from tribal members.
Tool drives can also be paired up with other creative approaches to raising funds and support for the community garden.  Selling kitchen gardening kits, such as certain herbs, may raise revenue and also generate interest in growing!  As ABC’s Extreme Makeover illustrates, area construction companies and tool stores may be willing to donate and sponsor community garden initiatives.  Likewise, service learning classes such as the American Indian Housing Initiative or groups, such as cropmob, may be interested and capable for providing the expertise and skills necessary to build or repair your garden structures, greenhouses, or barns.

Intergenerational Entrepreneurs

Improve access to healthy, affordable foods while integrating intergenerational opportunities between elders and youth!  Encourage elders to pass down their gardening and farming knowledge and memories to youth!  Elders also get the benefit of increased access to healthy, affordable foods, physical activity, and social opportunities.  Cultivate in youth agriculture skills and career opportunities by encouraging them to apply for internships and scholarships, as well as participating in short-term workshops, such as:

  • Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina State University
  • Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Sodexo Foundation STOP Hunger scholarships
  • Department of Horticulture Sciences, North Carolina State University
  • Organic Growers School
  • Piedmont Fruit School,
  • Bountiful Backyards, specifically their Native Medicinal & Edible Plants Workshop

Teach Them to Fish and They will Eat Fish Forever

Encourage the cultivating of traditional, indigenous foods!  Create and share recipes and consider compiling your very own tribal cookbook to complement agricultural products grown in your tribe’s garden.  Recipes can also be posted regularly to your website, encouraging regular linking to your site and other informational resources.  Encourage local restaurants and stores to sell and sample your products and recipes too!  Check out free resources at:

  • NC Fruits and Veggies Nutrition Coalition includes more than 200 members and provides links to relevant government, non-for-profit, and industry resources for promoting fruit and vegetable consumption in communities.
  • Eat Smart Move More North Carolina provides a guide on developing partnerships necessary to bring fresh produce to your tribal area.

Many folks start with encouraging community’s or home’s to grow herbs.  Check out these herb resources to learn how to grow and cook with herbs and spices:

  • University of Missouri Extension Herbs and Spices
  • North Dakota State University Extension Service From Garden to Table: Harvesting Herbs for Healthy Eating
  • Kansas State Research and Extension Search Herb for a variety of resources
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Add a Little SPICE (& HERBS) to Your Life! and their Healthy Cooking with Fresh Herbs
  • Healthy Cooking with Fresh Herbs and Herb & Food Combinations

Teach Them to Can and They will have Vegetables Year Round

Throughout the modified Talking Circles and key informant interviews, community members told stories of Native traditions of canning and how it’s becoming a “lost art.”
Benefits of Canning

  • Monetary Savings
  • Prevents Food Waste
  • Ensures year way access to produce

Canning Tips

  • Seems the best way to learn is ask an elder in the community!  Consider intergenerational canning lessons and other food preservation strategies.
  • Remember it is crucial to follow canning instructions exactly, especially on how to properly prepare your equipment, store your foods properly, and inspect your canned foods for signs of spoilage.
  • Work with area stores to get donated materials or access to a local cannery.

For Home Preparation:  A number of websites detail step-by-step approaches to canning and provide relevant food safety tips:

  • US Department of Agriculture, through the National Center for Home Preservation, Complete Guide to Canning
  • North Carolina State University Department of Food Science Extension
  • National Center for Home Food Preservation
  • Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension
  • Utah State Extension

For Commercial Preparation:  If you plan to sell your items, work with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to understand all relevant rules and regulations.  In North Carolina, the Department of Agriculture regulates commercial processing, packaging, and retailing of low acid canned foods (i.e., green beans, some sauces, and acidified foods, including pickles, chowchow, some sauces).

Teach Them How to Fish and Hunt

A number of community members explained the traditional roles of fishing and hunting in Native culture and how living off the land can be brought back into contemporary families to increase access to healthy, affordable foods.  Local and state laws govern fishing and hunting.   For more than 12 years, Kendall Locklear has been defending his right to hunt and fish without a North Carolina license as a sovereign Tuscarora.
Helpful Hunting/Fishing Initiative Strategies:

  • Consider intergenerational ways to integrate fishing and hunting into community garden efforts.
  • Consult with relevant authorities for areas you would like to teach youth how to fish or hunt in.
  • Utilize resources such as Penn State Cooperative Extension that has free booklets on wild game, processing, and field dressing.
  • Check out Hunt.Fish.Feed run by Sportsman Channel.
  • Talk with your local food bank to learn how to coordinate game meat donations or explore other Game Meat Donation Programs.

Sell or Donate Your Garden’s Bounty

Plan as a community who and how the garden’s bounty will be distributed.  After all participating gardeners have received their fair share, consider ways to sell or donate your extra surplus such as:

  • A tribal-owned and operated farmers market may be feasible or local farmers markets may welcome youth and elders to set up a stand.
  • Ample Harvest offers strategies and assistance to share your garden’s bounty with neighbors in need!
  • The Oconto Community Garden supported through the University of Wisconsin-Extension offers education to adults and youth on gardening and healthy eating and distributes most of its garden’s bounty to a food pantry.
  • Community gardeners in Philadelphia agree, formally and informally, to share their garden’s surplus with needy families in the area.

Understand Your Risks & Opportunities

Work with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, along with local, state, and national sustainable agriculture non-for-profits to understand your best options for crop insurance and disaster assistance.  Unlike major commodities, such as corn, wheat, and soybeans, fruit and vegetable farmers usually do not have strong safety nets against natural disasters.  In addition, explore various loan programs and ensure you have unbiased financial advisors helping you make the best short and long term choices.  Explore various opportunities at the US Department of Agriculture, such as community facilities program, business and industry guaranteed loan program, value-added producer grant program, and community food project grants.  Also work with your attorney or legal assistance to ensure you have adequate insurance coverage for any injuries sustained on your tribal land.  Consider exploring with your attorney or legal assistance participant waivers to ensure participants understand their risks of participating in the community garden.  The National Policy and Legal Network provides model agreements between non-for-profit institutions and individual gardeners and sample ground rules for participation in Ground Rules: A Legal Toolkit for Community Gardens.

Safety First

  • Work with local health and state agriculture resources to obtain technical assistance on food safety best practices.
  • Collaborate with local doctors and occupational therapies to create workshops and posters on the best way to pick things up and avoid other garden injuries.
  • Make sure all gardeners understand how to properly use and put away all tools.
  • Create natural boundaries to keep young children from hazardous garden equipment and to ensure all mechanic and dangerous tools are safely stored when not in use.

Certified Organic

The US Department of Agriculture has recently implemented a cost-share program to help organic growers become certified under the National Organic Program.  North Carolina has received a grant to help North Carolina farmers with the certification process and will do so on a first come-first serve basis through September 30, 2011.  If you gross less than $5,000 per year from organic farming, you are encouraged to follow organic production standards but you do not have to be certified under the National Organic Standards.  Learn more about the financial and technical assistance provided from the state at: or contact

Community Garden Curricula

Community garden curricula are springing up all over the globe!  Over 50 garden curricula integrate “hands-on” agriculture and nutrition lessons into community gardens for children and adolescents!  Many resources are tailored for different age-abilities and for different settings (e.g., youth group versus school classroom).  Read this Native author’s reflections on indigenous foods:  Recovering Our Ancestors’ Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness (At Table).

Other Native, free resources include online K-12 curriculum guide on American Indians in North Carolina.  The curriculum integrates lessons about indigenous plants and foods.  The Native Foods Celebration hosted by the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the fall is a hands-on opportunity to learn about Native history and culture while sampling authentic Native foods!   To learn more about the Learn NC curriculum and Native Foods Celebration contact Randi at or 919-843-4189.  Half Moon Studios is also dedicated to Native Americans and shares art history and culture with children, illustrating how plants can help maintain and generate seeds for the future and help address food security:

Another approach is to explore integrating Native plants and traditions into school gardens.  The National Farm to School Network provides online tools to find nearby Farm-to-School programs and available resources to help you get started.  These programs range from getting local foods into the school lunch program, school gardens, school farmers market, and farm field trips.
One local example is Camp Lejeune Dependent Schools.  For more than 20 years, the Child Nutrition Director at Camp Lejeune Dependent Schools has used farm field trips, health fairs, and school gardens, to encourage students’ interest in fruits and vegetables.   The teachers at George Watts Montessori in Durham, NC offer over 30 garden-based lessons they developed to align with the NC Standard Course of Study.
The First Lady’s Let’s Move! Campaign and the People’s Garden School Pilot Program contribute other ideas and resources around garden-based initiatives.  The People’s Garden School Pilot Program helped establish vegetable gardens in 70 elementary schools in four states.  The US Department of Agriculture Community Foods Projects, amongst other grants, help support the development, implementation, and evaluation of community or school based gardens.  The US Department of Agriculture also put forth a new standards-based gardening nutrition 11-lesson curriculum for grades 3 and 4 to help connect learning and nutritious foods.
Federal and state policymakers continue to improve rules and regulations to support community and school gardens, including refining food safety precautions to enable schools to use their garden bounty in the US Department of Agriculture National School Lunch Program.  These refinements are progressing but developing and sustaining community and school gardens still requires a lot of planning and policy advocacy.
Other Native Resources

  • The American Indian Health and Diet Project offers great ideas about gardening and provides traditional recipes featuring Indigenous foods.
  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has created a Native Gardens Project to integrate cultural foods and cooking into type 2 diabetes prevention programs.
  • The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium helps connect Alaska Native households with traditional foods.
  • A recent story illustrates the White Earth Reservations efforts to integrate traditional foods into anti-hunger and poverty approaches.
  • The National Indian Council on Aging collaborate with American Indian and Alaska Native community based Senior Centers, Diabetes Programs, and other Health Promotion Programs on senior gardening programs and have a nice project description, as well as identify Native web-based resources.

Consider Potential Partnerships

Partners may help provide you with land, labor, seeds, equipment, or evaluation assistance.
Check out these examples:

  • The town of Chapel Hill partnered with the University of North Carolina’s Campus Y on a 14-acre garden.  The garden is run by volunteers and homeless workers.
  • On the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, three tribes partner with local and federal entities to use community gardens to instill cooperative organization, healthy eating, organic gardening, and Native gardening practices.
  • In Phoenix, AZ, grant money from St. Luke’s Health Initiatives is helping develop a community garden in an area identified as a “food desert.”
  • In California, Healthy San Bernardino built a coalition of more than 50 partners that effectively worked together to build two community gardens, completed an environmental scan and walkability assessment, conducted a photo voice project, and increased EBT and WIC access at farmers’ markets.
  • Healthy San Bernardino established a joint use agreement to build a Veterans’ Empowerment Garden in an abandoned lot.

Evaluate your Effort

Few studies evaluate the nutrition or economic-related outcomes of community gardens (McCormack LA, et al.  Review of the Nutritional Implications of Farmer’s Markets and Community Gardens:  A Call for Evaluation and Research Efforts.  J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:399-408).  A lack of evidence hinders community garden movement from maximizing its full health and economic potential and also limits advocacy efforts for supportive legislative and funding efforts.

  • Learn to maximize your resources and share your process and progress with your community and other interested communities!
  • Work with research partners to help develop a feasible and meaningful evaluation of your community garden.
  • Utilize Healthy, Native North Carolina evaluation workshop materials focused on evaluation from Dr. Bell and on evaluating community food projects from Dr. Ammerman!
  • Explore the free assessments tools at the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research.

Share your Story

Media buzz attracts volunteers!  Maximize traditional and social media outlets to ensure all potential volunteers know where, when, and how to get to your community garden!  Circulate traditional recipes and showcase samples, cooking demonstrations, and other entertainment options available at your community garden.  Also disseminate your process and progress at various levels, including state (e.g., the Unity Conference and Sustainable Agriculture Conference by Carolina Farm Stewards), regional (e.g., Southern Obesity Summit), and national (e.g. American Public Health Association Annual Conference).  Share American Indian initiatives with other American Indian health and agricultural research groups and the two leading ethnic minority research organizations, African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network and the Salud America!
Check out how Guilford Native American Association shared their community garden story in their social media video, “More than a Garden“, created by videographer Ryan Comfort (Ojibwe)!

Join a North Carolina Local Foods List_Serv

The Local Foods Action Plan Listserv is a statewide listserv to facilitate a local food economy moderated by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS),  The listserv is open to the public and members are encouraged to post on any topic dealing with the cultivation of local food, farms, and sustainable agriculture by emailing  Posters are responsible for the content they submit.  To receive the digest version or for questions about the listserv, please e-mail

Join a North Carolina Community Garden Partnership

The North Carolina Community Garden Partnership works to advocate for community gardens, connect partners, provide education, and share resources.  Join this partnership’s facebook page and contact for more information.

Register your Garden

Help folks track community gardens and take advantage of the resources available to the various gardening networks.  Register with two national organizations:  American Community Gardening Association and US Department of Agriculture’s People’s Garden, as well as with a North Carolina group, NC Community Garden Partners.

Explore Growing Garden Success Stories & Resources

In North Carolina, check out the community garden partnership between North Carolina Recreation & Park Association (NCRPA) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC).  Known as Nourishing NC – One Garden at a Time (NNC), the two entities plan to work together to install or enhance a community garden in all 100 NC counties over the next 3 years.  Learn more at or contact
These two resources provide information on container gardening in NC:
1) How to Create a Container Garden for Edibles in the North Carolina Piedmont
2) Container Garden Planting Calendars for Edibles in the NC Piedmont

Other websites to explore: