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Growing, Tending and Gathering - Holistically

Holistic agriculture management is at its best when the three components of growing, tending, and gathering are all working in tandem with each other and are in tune with the natural world. 

Intertribal Agriculture (IAC) team members: Steven Bond –  Technical Assistance Specialist (TA) for the Southern Plains Region; Keir Johnson-Reyes – National TA Lead/TA for the Pacific Region; and Tikaan Galbreath – TA for the Alaska Region, deeply understand the interwovenness of growing, tending and gathering.

The presentation is part of a webinar series being featured each week on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Mountain Time, highlighting various subject matters that will be featured at the 2020 Virtual IAC Conference occurring December 7-10. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER: December 7-10 Virtual Conference Registration Link

Live last Tuesday, the three shared their wisdom and expertise on the topic of holistic agriculture management.


“Some are growing in the desert, some extreme cold, some drought,” pointed out Bond about the Native agriculturalists IAC serves.  He said the diversity of Native producers is broad and the, “IAC has a lot of great opportunities to work with Tribes across the U.S. – from Maple production to pecans, citrus and some obscure wildlife too.”

Bond said it is important for Tribal farmers to know that some specialty crops and wild harvested plants do qualify for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programming.  Bond noted that when he is working with TA clients, he talks about how every ag site is extremely site specific, one parcel of land on the reservation may be better suited for one type of planting and one next to it may have soils suited for an entirely different planting, “Each and every site is special – it's important to figure out what programs from USDA are applicable and what techniques are suitable for typical areas.”

He went on to share irrigation, and the sometimes lack thereof, are critical issues to consider.  From flood irrigation and drip, to roll out sprayers and sub-surface systems, there are also flow rates to consider and access issues when water is not prevalent or non-existent, “Some folks just want to do a community garden, some are growing at a subsistence level – all of these things are considered agriculture. The baseline USDA definition of a farm is producing $1,000 worth of produce or animal product that you either consumer yourself or sell.” 

Equipment can also be an important component of agricultural production to consider.  Budgets vary in this area and planning must be done in ways that suit each individual goal.  Smaller scale tractors may be just the ideal fit for the business model of some and larger, commercial vegetable production may require more resources.  It is all about meeting people where they are at and dreaming from there. 

Bond gave several equipment examples in the presentation and shared a photo of a community garden outside of a classroom that is thoughtfully designed to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.  TAs have been known to inform students of all ages about youth loans and USDA programs that are youth specific.  What better time to propel Native visionaries on ag journeys than capturing and freeing the energy of their youthfulness? It is never too early or late!


Bridging the gap is a critical role that IAC TAs play. This was outlined clearly and simply by Johnson-Reyes in his portion of the presentation. 

The importance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a partner in Tribal natural resource management and agricultural systems was relayed in his words, “For those not familiar with NRCS – it is one of the 17 agencies under the USDA umbrella and the primary agency that focuses on land management and conservation.  NRCS has been a really strong partner locally and nationally with Tribal communities (and the IAC – TA network).” 

Johnson-Reyes used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP) as one framework for how NRCS actively supports Tribal projects and seeks to partner with Tribal communities. He said the end-goal seeks to ensure these programs are more applicable to Tribal needs. Several examples he shared ranged from active Tribal restoration projects, cooperative agreements focusing on increasing the agency’s understanding around traditional ecological knowledge and inviting Tribal representatives to become involved in their state’s Technical Advisory Committees and Tribal Advisory Committees. 

Johnson-Reyes said the TA network wants Native producers and Tribal communities to understand this agency’s mission and responsiveness to growing ongoing relationships. This is evident in their approach to conservation planning, “Work with NRCS sits on the collaborative development of a conservation plan that is guided by the landholders themselves and the expertise of the planner. Everything flows from the goals of the landholder and the collaborative approach to developing natural resource concern priority areas and strategies to address these issues.” 


“NRCS is a fantastic partner for management of the land,” Galbreath echoed in the gathering portion of the discussion. “Cultivation of Native plant species is so important and a tradition that many Native communities have had for thousands of years . . . Wild harvesting really helps me feel connected to the land, helps to ground me and feel centered.  Wild harvesting is only successful if we choose to slow down, be present and engaged with Mother Earth.”

“My Grandmother always told me plants offer medicine when we need it,” Galbreath recalled, noting that plant communities will sometimes “move on” if they are unused,  “In many places, these plants are in a relationship with us as humans.  Without the engagement from basket weaving to cultivating the abundance of Sweet Grass they will (Native plants) disappear from areas.” Galbreath said many studies have shown that nutrition from wild foods have higher amounts of phytonutrients and complex nutrients that are often missing from other foods. Gathering of wild, nutrient-dense plants also creates an economic opportunity in communities.  Wild harvesting, he said, “Creates a foundation that allows a continuation of us not having to move into larger cities for opportunities.”  Gathering in these Native ways also helps Galbreath consider what he truly values most in his daily life, “Wild harvesting really creates an opportunity and connects me with the values that are important – such as respecting the lessons of our elders.  The stories that are shared with us from our elders are those connections that help to broaden our worldview and connect us to where we are and come from.”  Connect with the IAC TA network and all our staff at:

PRE-CONFERENCE WEBINARS 2020 Conference Sneak Peek- Economics Tuesday, October 20, 2020 – 1 MT Register in advance for this webinar: 2020 Conference Sneak Peek- Legal & Policy Tuesday, October 27, 2020 – 1 MT Register in advance for this webinar: 2020 Conference Sneak Peek- Food Systems Tuesday, November 3, 2020 – 1 MT Register in advance for this webinar: 2020 Conference Sneak Peek- Communications Tuesday, November 10, 2020 – 1 MT Register in advance for this webinar: 2020 Conference Sneak Peek- Professional Development Tuesday, November 17, 2020 – 1 MT Register in advance for this webinar:


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