Inter-tribal Seed Stewardship Initiative

We received a Baldwin Wisconsin Idea grant in 2018 to develop seed saving workshops and re-matriation projects with native nations in Wisconsin. This page outlines a few of the outcomes of this grant thus far, including the development of the WI Intertribal Seed Stewardship Initiative, a course at UW Madison about seed and food sovereignty in indigenous communities and a series of beginner grower trainings for American Indian farmers. Additionally, we are working with the Ho Chunk and Menominee Nations to grow seed of historic varieties of corn, beans and squash.

Photo by Jessika Greendeer of Ho Chunk corn


Wisconsin Intertribal Seed Stewardship Initiative

The Wisconsin Intertribal Seed Stewardship Initiative is a 9 month educational cohort program for those interested in learning to steward seed varieties and cultivate leadership and mentorship skills around food and seed sovereignty to share with others in your community. The sessions will follow the growing season and guide you through planning, planting, pollinating, harvesting, storing and record keeping. We will also incorporate lessons on growing by the moon cycles, assessing seed sovereignty and seed systems in your community, maintaining good seed through mindful seed stewardship, and indigenous plant breeding and selection.


  • Rowen White – The Indigenous Seedkeepers Network
  • Jessika Greendeer – Dream of Wild Health
  • Dan Cornelius – Intertribal Agriculture Council, University of Wisconsin – Madison – Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center
  • Claire Luby- University of Wisconsin – Madison

The Details:

  • Starting in February, we will work with future seed stewards who are interested in growing their own plots for seed in summer 2019.
  • We will facilitate monthly recorded call/video conferences, outside readings and videos, an interactive online classroom space, and several in-person workshops during the growing season.
  • Monthly training modules and workshops will follow the seasonality of seed stewardship, from planning out your seed garden through planting, tending, harvest and storage. Individuals will develop the skills needed for cultivation, pollination, maintenance, purity, and seed increase of their chosen crop/s. We will also incorporate lessons on growing by the moon cycles, assessing seed sovereignty and seed systems in your community, maintaining good seed through mindful seed stewardship, and indigenous plant breeding and selection.
  • Several in-person workshops will be held throughout the growing season, specifically to cover planting, pollination and harvest. These in-person workshops will connect to the Beginning Native Grower and Food Producer Training Curriculum.
  • Opportunities to connect with other seed stewards from across WI and with the regional Upper Midwest Indigenous Seedkeepers Network.

Learning Objectives:

  • Choose a crop and variety to grow this summer
  • Have instruction throughout the seasons designed around the seasonal cycle of planning, planting, growing, tending, pollinating, harvesting and storing seed of crops of choice. This will be a blend of learning approaches spanning both culturally appropriate indigenous techniques and also organic farming and seed stewardship techniques.
  • Learn how to grow crops specifically for seed and how to maintain good seed through mindful seed stewardship
  • Assess seed sovereignty and seed systems in your community
  • Develop your seed stewardship leadership skills so that you can share your experience and what you learned with others


HORT 375: Seed and Food Sovereignty in Indigenous Communities

People have practiced agriculture in about as many ways as there are places around the world since our crops and animals were first domesticated. The saving and replanting of seed began transforming local landscapes approximately 10,000 years ago. More recently, as our food and seed systems become more privatized and global in scope, genetic resources from indigenous communities have been transferred into the general public and private spheres. Today, indigenous communities are calling for the right to sovereignty over their seed, food and agricultural systems. This means the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and the right to define one’s own food and agriculture systems and to control the mechanisms and policies that govern food distribution. In this course, we will explore how agricultural practices and policies have shaped food and seed sovereignty in the US. Through guest lectures and readings, we will learn about specific case studies that examine how indigenous communities, and Native American communities within the US in particular, are re-claiming their agricultural traditions to improve public health, economic opportunity, and food and seed sovereignty.



Tribal Farming 101: Starting a Farm

February 15-16 2019

On February 15-16 2019, The College of Menominee Nation hosted the ‘Tribal Farming 101: Starting a Farm’ Workshop. The goal of the workshop was to present an introduction to the various aspects of starting a farm from a tribal grower perspective. Topics included tribal grower perspectives, opportunities for cooperative marketing and production, historic Menominee food system, food and community health, introduction to seed keeping, land and business considerations and youth perspectives. Additionally, USDA program representatives were there to both listen to needs of tribal growers and to present on the various resources available through USDA programs.

Presenters gave updates on a number of innovative food sovereignty projects happening throughout Wisconsin.

  • Elena Terry talked about Wild Bearies, her effort to organize and train Native chefs on indigenous agriculture and traditional food preparation. In the first year of her work more than 16 chefs joined the effort.
  • Becky Webster shared the formation of a white corn cooperative, with 12 families farming together for the past two growing seasons. The group is using advanced cover cropping methods, including use of an Outagamie County-owned roller crimper. All responsibilities are shared, consensus is used for governance, and the harvest is equitably distributed as negotiated through the consensus process.
  • Beth Waukechon and Cherie Thunder discussed their efforts to create a Menominee non-profit food organization this year, and how this work relates to resisting the Back 40 mine.
  • Menominee Tribal Extension educator Jennifer Gauthier shared her methods and findings from a community assessment on food sovereignty.
  • Jessika Greendeer from Dream of Wild Health in Minneapolis and a leader in the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network lead a hands-on introduction to seed keeping, along with Warren Miller from the Stockbridge Munsee Community and Claire Luby, from UW-Madison. ISKN and UW Madison are collaborating to organize monthly conference calls this growing season to coach and share knowledge on seed keeping.
  • Dan Cornelius shared his growing experience and offered tactics for planning a large garden, such as how to integrate machinery and access NRCS support for conservation management. He provided large aerial maps to farms attending the event so that they could see the “whole under management”.
  • David Cronaeur from Forest County Potawatomie shared his work grazing beef and bison.
  • Jamie Betters discussed 20th history of HoChunk and Menominee farming and food sovereignty. Jeff Grignon shared knowledge of ancestral gardens grown over the last 127 generations in the Menominee forest.
  • Warren Miller, Stockbridge-Munsee, talked about the Great Lakes intertribal food summits, organized by the Intertribal Agriculture Council.
  • Joy Schelble spoke on youth work to attain food sovereignty, including an update from the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance.

Meals were made using primarily indigenous ingredients and were prepared by Waqsecewan Indigenous Catering and Wild Bearies Catering. Chefs shared their cooking philosophies and stories of the food that they had prepared. Friday evening featured a community dinner where members of the community were invited to attend the meal and post-dinner presentation on Menominee health and well-being in a forest system by Jeff Grignon.

68 people attended over the course of the two-day event. Attendees represented many of the native nations of Wisconsin and beyond, including: Oneida, Ho-Chunk, Lac du Flambeau, Menominee, Bad River Band of Ojibwe, Stockbridge Munsee, Lac Courte Oreilles, Red Lake Nation, Crow Creek Sioux, Shoshone Nation, Arapaho, and Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.  USDA representatives from the NRCS, FSA, Rural development, and NASS were also in attendance in order to learn more about the needs of tribal growers and present on grant opportunities. University of Wisconsin and UW Extension were also present, in addition to Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa College, College of Menominee Nation and Tribal Extension educators.

The event was organized, sponsored and supported by the College of Menominee Nation, The Menominee Nation, the Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Menikahnaekem, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, CALS Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, and UW Extension.

This was the first in a series of workshops planned for 2019. Additional workshops, taught by farmers and chefs for farmers and chefs may include topics such as:

  • Food safety and FSMA
  • Season extension
  • Conservation planning
  • Developing a grazing plan
  • Culinary and value added processing
  • Planting demonstrations
  • Harvest and seed saving
  • Sugarbush management
  • Small-scale (under 2 acres) farming training
  • Pollinator training
  • Wild rice mentoring
  • Organic crop management
  • Agroforestry
  • Collaborative and cooperative business development