On a warm and breezy Monday morning in June, a handful of farmworkers in sun hats and boots weeds, mows, and harvests seeds at Dream of Wild Health, a Native–led nonprofit farm in Hugo. As they work under a hazy blue sky, a cat saunters past rows of squash. Nearby, a deer darts into the woods. The vibe is peaceful despite a recent uptick in activity at the farm, which provides food grown without pesticides to Native American communities in the Twin Cities, about 30 miles to the southwest. In early 2020, Dream of Wild Health tripled its size to 30 acres, with plans to expand its youth programs and grow more food for sales and donations. Then came COVID–19 and protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
Native communities in the Twin Cities have long lived in
food deserts, where healthy foods are scarce, and they suffer from elevated rates of chronic illnesses, says Neely Snyder, the farm's executive director. But recent events have made it even harder for them to access fresh foods.
This year with the pandemic, we're seeing a more urgent need for food, especially healthy, indigenous food. And then with all the rioting and looting and business closures, a lot of our families don't have their stores anymore, Snyder says.
We're trying to bring indigenous foods back into our community and make that our new normal as it was hundreds of years ago, because we know that food is medicine.
One field bursts with garlic, zucchini, squash, and other vegetables. Cucumbers and watermelon will be growing soon, says farm manager Jessika Greendeer, pausing at a
wild medicine garden chest–high with sage, bergamot, and milkweed.
Many workdays at Dream of Wild Health start at 7 a.m. with a fire and a group meeting.
We'll smudge sage or sweetgrass and take that time to balance ourselves and focus on the day, Greendeer says.
Faith Gronda takes a break from trimming cover crops to talk about her first summer at the farm in 2016 as a high–school student from New Brighton. Her father's family is part of the Wyandot tribe in Michigan, and Gronda was interested in learning more about Minnesota's Native culture. The farm turned into a second home for her.
Co–workers became friends. Elders became like grandparents. Gronda now works as a part–time farmer at Dream of Wild Health, and she credits the experience with helping her connect with her roots. During her time in the organization's Garden Warriors program, she learned to cook with farm–fresh vegetables and fell in love with a kale salad recipe. She then made the salad to share with her tribe during its annual Green Corn Feast.
Everyone was raving about it, Gronda says, adding that feeding others feels more meaningful than ever.
I feel so lucky to be out here doing this work.
Emily Sohn, freelance writer