Native nonprofit expands Minnesota farm, aims to scale up crop production amid pandemic

Jessika Greendeer at Dream of Wild Health
Jessika Greendeer, who is seed keeper and farm manager for Dream of Wild Health, gives a lesson to visiting youth during a previous year's growing season at the farm in Hugo.
Courtesy Dream of Wild Health

With food insecurity drawing renewed attention amid the coronavirus pandemic, a Twin Cities-based Native American nonprofit is ramping up food production on its organic farm.

Dream of Wild Health has expanded its farm in Hugo, from 10 to 30 acres, and they plan to scale up production.

The expansion of the farm "comes in a time when the community is reeling from the economic and social impact of COVID-19,” the group said in a news release. “The high rates of poverty and health disparities in Native communities heightens the effects of COVID-19. Dream of Wild Health youth and family participants are expressing an increasing need for access to food. The organization is working to expand food access immediately to respond to this need."

Executive director Neely Snyder said they will farm their existing acres more intensively as they work to prepare the newly acquired land, which was previously conventionally farmed, for organic farming.

"We’re already seeing food insecurities," said Snyder. "I can just imagine ... some time in the future with businesses closing and all the schools closing, that the need for food access in our community is really going to increase, and so now we are looking at this as an urgent need for our community to start growing sooner rather than later."

Snyder said they hope increased production will allow them to create a meal-delivery program for families and elders in the community.

Dream of Wild Health volunteers
Dream of Wild Health volunteers work with squash plants at the farm in Hugo during a previous year's growing season. The Twin Cities-based Native American nonprofit has expanded its farm from 10 to 30 acres.
Courtesy Dream of Wild Health

Dream of Wild Health, which was founded in 1998, grows market vegetables as well as "culturally appropriate foods," says Jessika Greendeer, seed keeper and farm manager. She said they grow "foods that our Native community cannot find in the grocery stores or even inside of the co-ops, so that includes a lot of our Indigenous varieties of corn, beans and squash, as well as sunflowers and food products that all of those (crops) produce as well."

"With the pandemic we’ve had to change our style of farming," said Greendeer, "not only to maintain social distance but also to create more growing space from how we used to farm the property. So we’re growing a lot more intensively on the existing property."

The expansion had been in the works since well before the coronavirus pandemic began. Originally, they'd planned to slowly expand into the new acreage. But this season, Greendeer said, "we are looking at different ways can help start remediating the soil at the new property so we can start growing there sooner, especially as the need increases."

Dream of Wild Health also provides a site for nutrition and cultural education programs for kids in the summer — which they hope to run if they can safely do so. Snyder said the staff is working on contingency plans to continue to engage community and youth on the farm.

The group is working to raise money to install irrigation and complete other projects, and plan for possible year-round growing using greenhouses.