Indian Youth Launch Production Ag Businesses
In December 2016, hundreds of Native Americans from across the country traveled to Las Vegas, Nev., to attend the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s (IAC) 30th Annual Membership Meeting. Held in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo, the event focused on achieving food sovereignty, promoting Indian use of Indian resources and connecting tribal enterprises and individual producers with federal government agencies and leaders in the agricultural field for opportunities to further develop agricultural businesses.
The IAC was established in 1987, “to provide a unified effort to promote change in Indian Agriculture for the benefit of Indian People,” and IAC leaders talked passionately at the annual meeting about ways production agriculture, and achieving independence through food, can address ongoing issues — health, economic and social, to name a few.
Helping to put this message into practice is Kelsey Ducheneaux, IAC youth projects coordinator, who hails from Eagle Butte, S.D.
“We work hard to foster a relationship with all of our amazing young leaders across Indian Country, and it’s been such a joy to be able to celebrate their victories in pursuing their dreams,” said Ducheneaux. “For many, this is something that they attribute to the support of the IAC. The IAC has since worked to improve Indian participation in conservation and credit programs that our non-Indian counterparts had regularly used; as well as developed an American Indian Foods export readiness program for those producers who are adding value to their products and are ready for overseas trade; and most recently, the development of a youth leadership development program second-to-none, where Indian youth are inspired to be the change in their communities.”
Ducheneaux listed several examples of Indian youth pursuing sustainable food solutions through production agriculture careers.
“There are young ladies in San Diego who are starting a compositing cooperative where they deliver buckets with the ‘do’s and don’t’s’ of composting on the lid and collect them weekly to develop soil along a vacant lot in their neighborhood,” said Ducheneaux. “There’s also a young man from Michigan who has started a farm fresh egg and poultry meat operation to integrate with his brother’s aquaponics and greenhouse system. Both of these young men have begun distributing their products to local schools through the Farm-to-School initiative.”
She said there are IAC youth from across the country who are pursuing unique food production careers, and their success goes hand-in-hand with IAC’s message of promoting Indian agriculture and addressing problems in Indian country.
“When the Europeans arrived on this continent, they found people who were engaged in 100 percent sustainable food production,” said Ducheneaux. “We’ve found that some of the most replicable and sustainable models descend from our traditional indigenous cultures, surrounding food production. We will continue to empower our tribal producers with the knowledge, skills, and training necessary to become food producers again. The poverty will be addressed through value-added economic activity on the reservations; locally grown and produced food that is more attuned to the dietary needs of the local community possesses the ability to address the health issues. Ultimately, a reconnection with our food source will rectify the social problems, which are more realistically symptoms of poverty, rather than the self-inflicted problems they are often perceived as. The IAC provides the foundation of knowledge upon which our Indian ag producers can become food producers once again, making our broken food systems a discussion of the past.”
While the growing season for fruits and vegetables may be short in locations like South Dakota, one product that grows well here is cattle. Carlyle Ducheneaux, a rancher from the Cheyenne Sioux River Tribe, is passionate about helping the next generation of beef producers get their start.
In 2017, he’s assisted five youth with securing Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans to get their beef herds started.
“I had a young kid who is good friends with my son, and I asked him one day what he wanted to do when he grew up, and he said he wanted to be a rancher just like me,” said Carlyle Ducheneaux. “I thought to myself, why not give him a chance to do just that?”
Ducheneaux has two children — Brock (age 11) and Hailey (age 12) who have both applied and received $5,000 cattle loans from FSA. In addition, Ducheneaux has helped three youth in the community — Jaxson Logg (age 12), TC Lawrence (age 12) and Rusty Ducheneaux (age 17) apply for the same loan.
“The deal I made with these kids, and their parents, is if they use the $5,000 FSA loan to purchase cow-calf pairs, I would provide the land, feed and resources they need, but in return, they would provide labor for me,” said Carlyle Ducheneaux. “They come help me on weekends when they can, and although they are pretty young yet, in a few years, they’ll be able to do a lot of jobs around the ranch.”
Serving as a mentor, Ducheneaux’s goal is to gives these kids a chance they may not otherwise ever have.
“I want to gives these kids the opportunity to own cattle and learn this business,” he said. “Maybe someday they’ll be able to buy or lease their own place. I’m very blessed to have this ranch, and I can’t think of a better occupation. I think these kids will learn a lot about managing money, keeping records and the responsibility of taking care of livestock. For kids who get the chance to work in agriculture and spend time on a ranch, they learn a different perspective about life. They see calves being born, and they see cattle die. They learn how to work hard and take risks. I’m hoping it’s a good experience for them, and that they’ll learn important lessons along the way.”
“Carlyle is teaching these kids about land and herd management, as well as what it takes to be in an effective partnership agreement,” said Kelsey Ducheneaux. “His project with these kids really stands out.”