It’s amazing what the power of friendships can lead to when they share the same vision. That is certainly the case when it comes to Katherine Minthorn – Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) Northwest Region Technical Assistance Specialist and her dear friend Shelly Morrison of Pendleton, Ore.
“My Grandfather was the last Indian farmer on the reservation in production agriculture. We wanted the kids to understand the ag lifestyle,” Minthorn said passionately and then grinned. “We didn’t give them a choice.” This lesson in agriculture began when members of the Umatilla Indian Tribe received monies from the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux settlement. That is when the Minthorn and Morrison families joined together and decided to try and provide some of the basic food necessities for themselves and their families. “This year has truly been a year to open our eyes to the importance of food sovereignty,” said Minthorn. “Last spring, dairy farmers were spilling out thousands of gallons of milk, pork producers were forced to euthanize market animals and American citizens were buying shelves bare in the grocery stores in a panic that food would become unavailable. For the first time in this generation, people realized that even if they have the money to purchase the food, there may not be food to be purchased.” The two friends decided to start to solve the food availability problem by using the funds they received to buy bred cows, Minthorn explained, “Tribes teach hunting, fishing and berry picking and that is part of the way to sustain life, but we wanted them to know about raising livestock and about livestock production. We were blessed the first year because we got four bull calves. It has been a learning curve for all of us.” The kids who “weren’t given a choice” in the matter are Minthorn’s grandson Myles (age 11) and Morrison’s children – Cecilia “CeCe” (age 8) and Denise (age 11). Morrison, who loves all kids and who admits she always has a herd in “tow” along with Minthorn said while the project was initiated a bit by “force,” it has turned out to be fun for everyone. Morrison was super excited about sharing the story of agriculture with the next generation and said the kids, “Well, they enjoy it. Right now, they learn to gather them up, walk around the pen and have them turn corners . . . They listen to the children. When Katherine was away because of her job, we took the first two steers in to have them butchered. The kids had to load them. When they were finished, I asked them, ‘What did you guys learn?’” The kids didn’t really know how to answer her, so she proceeded to explain, “You established communication (with the livestock). You were able to move them and they listened to you and stayed where you put them. Their jaws dropped and they said, ‘We did all that?’ They saw their accomplishment once I pointed it out to them.” Since beef was so fun, of course the friends proceeded with their next livestock adventure – chickens! “Nobody had any experience raising and caring for chickens,” Minthorn explained. “So, in late April, 28 chicks were ordered online. During the waiting time for the chicks to arrive, feeders, waterers, and chick feed was purchased. And just by chance in early May, the local feed store had chicks arrive a day earlier than expected (feed stores were unable to keep chicks in stock this spring). So, in addition to those ordered online, 12 Red Sex Link chicks were purchased to learn how to care for chicks before the big shipment arrived.” The chickens are a big hit with the kids, Morrison said, “My youngest one likes running out there and is always having some kinds of vegetables for them. She takes a tray out there and sits and talks to them and says, ‘It’s so and so’s birthday.’” “From start to finish . . . the kids understand the whole process now,” Minthorn said, explaining the chickens remain at her home and Morrison and team take care of washing the eggs and marketing them in town. “I believe an agricultural lifestyle teaches them life skills and a lot of kids in Indian Country never get this opportunity.” Morrison chimed in, “To me, I want so many more kids to know it’s important – where is your food coming from and what’s being put into it.” We don’t want to give away all the fun in this story. That is why we are holding off talking about the dog mauling and other beef and chicken adventures for the Resiliency through Agriculture podcast coming soon! Yes, you won’t want to miss hearing the laughter, love, vision and hope these friends share with Matt Denetclaw. Maybe that vision, even if it was “forced” on the kids a bit, will help others to delve into more agricultural endeavors too. Stay tuned!