Dan Cornelius serves as an Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) Technical Assistance Specialist (TA) for the Great Plains Region, is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, and is trained as a lawyer. But you can find his heart and soul on a Wisconsin farm he is managing with a Native mindset in a holistic fashion. We are celebrating with Cornelius as he reflects upon one year of being able to call the farm his own.
“I’ve been growing Native corn for 12 to 15 years,” Cornelius said. “I gradually went from gardening to smaller scale production and now we are planning to grow even more.”
“I did the corn growing on my own at first and then connected with Jeff Metoxen who managed the Tsyunhehkwa Farm for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and taught me about growing traditional white corn. I really learned the deeper meaning of corn from him. The first IAC Regional Food Summit I hosted was with Jeff,” he explained, sharing that Jeff passed away several years ago. “He was a huge inspiration and support to me.”
Cornelius eventually came to the IAC because of his policy background but continued to develop his traditional farming skills by learning and doing, “I was lucky to make friends like Kole Fitzpatrick (another IAC TA), who I consider one of my closest friends now. We have chased a lot of cows up in the mountains and have had a crash course – literally – in cowboy ranching. I have learned a bunch from those experiences and with the IAC because of being able to travel across the country.”
His big break into farming firsthand, came when the owners of Zephyr Farm in Wisconsin wanted to sell their farm, but only to someone who would maintain holistic management. Cornelius was the perfect fit with his background in Indigenous agriculture and desire to implement innovative production strategies,
“All of my IAC experiences accumulated into being able to venture into farming on my own. I believe figuring it along the way has made me a better technical service provider. When you are putting in your own farm loan application and signing your name onto that line, it’s a little different.”
Cornelius has evolved on his farm from a walk behind tractor planting just one row at a time to now also using a four-row planter. He uses no-till practices and wants to dive more deeply into the newly coined phrase, “regen ag,” sphere even more. In many ways, the “regenerative agriculture” approach is simply modeling nature and working with nature to achieve the best results for the soil and all creatures, “In many ways food systems have been decimated and the big question is, ‘How do we get people back into agriculture?’ I believe the regenerative agriculture movement helps with that.”
Helping others through his role as an IAC TA and learning the farming ropes himself is how Cornelius is entering back into agriculture. He has big dreams to expand his corn production and will continue to tap maple, black walnut, and box elder trees – the latter of which is largely undiscovered by modern consumers. There are vegetables to grow and sell too at the farmers market and he already has some of the fencing up for the cattle he hopes to bring onto his farm as well.
“I want my son to be able to grow up on the farm and not in the city,” Cornelius said adamantly, reflecting on his first year on his own farm. “I prefer the country life too now. Now I have a home base to work from and it’s pretty exciting. I feel very fortunate and a big sense of responsibility to make everything work too.”