Mashantucket Pequot Tribe teaches self-sufficiency through farming
Friday, November 3, 2023
By Jeniece Roman for WSHU Public Radio.
Broadcast version by Edwin J. Viera for Connecticut News Service reporting for the Solutions Journalism Network-Public News Service Collaboration
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has made progress on its farm in North Stonington. In partnership with UConn, tribal members are learning about sustainability and self-sufficiency.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation had long owned an expanse of densely wooded land in North Stonington, close to its reservation. But eight years ago, tribal member Jeremy Whipple - then a public works employee at the tribe - had a vision for what the land could be.
"They allowed me to come up here and start clearing the land cause it was all overgrown so I brought it up to what it is now," Whipple said.
Now that parcel of land is Meechooôk Farm.
Equipped with greenhouses that house hydroponic lettuce, tomatoes, and fruit year-round, the land also supports livestock including cows. The transformation was made possible through support from The University of Connecticut and the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program.
Whipple is now the director of the Agricultural Department for the Tribe. He manages the farm along with seven other employees. Right now they are working to add more greenhouses on site.
Each greenhouse on the farm is equipped with long rows of white containers. Seeds are placed in small squares of dirt that will grow into bundles. Water is distributed through an irrigation system from an 1100-gallon water tank. Bees are then brought into the greenhouse to pollinate the plants. It allows for a harvest year-round.
While the crew manages the farm, UConn provides training, as well as food safety classes and supplies. A majority of the food harvested goes to a food assistance program for tribal members, the rest is sold. During the growing season, tribal members receive a box of vegetables every two weeks.
"Right now we have 180 members that are signed up for the program and the grant reimburses the farm, you know, $70 a box we give out. The USDA actually compensates us for feeding the community healthy food," Whipple said.
UConn Extension also helped to set up a youth engagement group to provide agricultural training and science programming. Whipple said the project will strengthen the tribal community and help establish self-sufficiency.
"We're trying to be sustainable and you know you can't be sovereign without food," Whipple said.
The education goes beyond to also teach members that struggle with health issues like diabetes about nutrition. Whipple hopes the project will encourage their membership to grow gardens in their own yards to have sustainability within their households.
"So we're going to train the community. It's community-based. So we're trying to get the membership and everybody on the same page on growing and bringing back our traditional roots for gardening and our culture," Whipple said.
The USDA recently funded the project for an additional four years thanks to its success. Whipple hopes to expand the farm and the agricultural products they can grow. He said the tribe will also apply for grants to add a meat processing facility and event space for classes.
Jeniece Roman wrote this article for WSHU Public Radio.
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