As part of our mission to pursue and promote the conversation, developments, and use of our agricultural resources for the betterment of our people, the Intertribal Agriculture Council's (IAC) service delivery model provides Tribes and Tribal food producers with technical assistance to access USDA resources. In our work with USDA's Meat Poultry Processing Expansion Program Technical Assistance (MPPTA), IAC identified a need for producers to gain direct exposure to processing facilities, specifically Tribally owned processing facilities. As a result, IAC hosted a 3-day "fly-in" event in March 2023 including tours at four Tribal facilities in Eastern Oklahoma to provide educational opportunities and support the growth of domestic processing capacity for Native communities.
"For Indigenous people, our foods are a way to define who we are [...] What goes into that is very significant. It involves all of us." —Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Osage Nation
The fly-in event included producers from across the country, with representatives from Tribal nations and various independent tribal producers. The first day of events included curriculum topics covering MPPTA technical assistance capacity, leveraging federal resources, structuring and organizing meat processing facilities, workforce development, labor needs, and inspection readiness. IAC's Executive Director, Kari Jo Lawrence, welcomed guests and introduced speakers Paul Kiecker, Administrator, USDA-Food Safety Inspection Service; Kenneth Corn, State Director, USDA-Rural Development Oklahoma; Carly Griffith Hotvedt, Associate Director, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, and Keir Johnson-Reyes, Technical Assistance Director, Intertribal Agriculture Council. The presenters emphasized the importance and need for increased processing infrastructure nationwide.
The second day of events included tours of Osage Nation's Osage Butcher House Meats and the Quapaw Nation Quapaw Cattle Company. The third day of events included tours of Muscogee Creek Nation's Looped Square Meat Company and Cherokee Nation's 1839 Cherokee Meat Company. As participants toured the facilities, they received information ranging from Hazard analysis and critical control points, workforce development/labor needs, and general information about the scope and scale of a facility, initial investment costs, operating costs, and breaking-even.
"I learned a lot," said Chairman Arlo Crutcher, Paiute/Shoshone. "I think that it's the direction most people in the country and rural country and our native people are going to start rolling back to their old traditional ways of feeding their communities and themselves." Input from presenters and the four partner tribes hosting tours responded to the fly-in event with a unified message: a resilient community is one with a healthy food system, and a healthy food system needs engaged citizens and the infrastructure to support it.
"Creating culturally sensitive and producer-responsive programming is what we're good at," said Keir Johnson-Reyes, IAC Technical Assistance Network Program Director. "The curriculum, tours, and programming were the result of many hands, from the four Tribes who hosted us and our partner TA delivery collaborators and nonprofit partners, to the Tribal leaders who informed the need and in some cases flew across the country, we all pitched in to make this happen."
The ongoing work that IAC has done in partnership with Tribal Nations and producers continues to identify key priorities to advancing equity and parity in the service delivery of USDA programming. Those needs have been communicated directly to USDA through the Office of Tribal Relations and partners at AMS administering the grant. This collaborative approach to technical assistance delivery helps IAC leverage even more opportunities in the second round of funding to accomplish the program's goals better.
As a result of IAC input and refinement of the grant opportunities, the USDA announced the Indigenous Animals Grant and the Local Meat Capacity Grants in April 2023. We anticipate that both funding opportunities will have strong applicability in Indian Country, and look forward to supporting the development of future facilities throughout the nation.
The MPPTA program, launched in March of 2022, is part of the USDA Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, an investment—funded through the American Rescue Plan and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)—in meat and poultry processing research, innovation, and expansion. The program aims to transform food systems at every stage along the supply chain. IAC is one of six provider organizations selected by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to administer the MPPTA program.
What does the MPPTA Offer?
Access to technical experts from across industry, academia, and state and federal government.
Content for diverse stakeholders, including family-owned, rural, minority-owned, Native American, and Tribal-owned businesses, and other underserved entities seeking to build or expand meat and poultry processing and supply chain capacity.
General assistance with navigating USDA grant application and award processes, and successful post-award grant management
One-on-one advising, including project and proposal reviews tailored to the specific needs of diverse stakeholders, from small and very small processors and new enterprise startups to organizations developing regional concepts and established mid-sized processing companies.
Educational resources, events, and webinars covering topics of interest for meat and poultry processing enterprises of all types.