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Fort Lewis College showcases advances in Native agriculture at Old Fort in national address

Fort Lewis College showcases advances in Native agriculture at Old Fort in national address

FLC's role in the 2nd Annual State of Native Agriculture Address underscores the importance of education and collaboration in shaping the future of food sovereignty.

Native Agriculture DURANGO— Fort Lewis College was prominently featured this week at the 2nd Annual State of Native Agriculture Address by the Native American Agriculture Fund. The virtual event brings together farmers, ranchers, Tribal leaders, and community stakeholders to engage in critical discussions on the future of Native agriculture.   

Keynote speakers at this year's event included NAAF CEO Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, U.S. Senator Jon Tester, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.  

In an address to the audience, Elicia Whittlesey, assistant director of Farmer Training at FLC, said that since the College collaborated with NAAF in 2020, a total of 33 Indigenous farmers and ranchers have engaged in agricultural training and food systems training at FLC's Old Fort in Hesperus, covering areas such as farming, ranching apprenticeships, and regenerative food systems.   

With a student body of nearly 40% Native and Alaska Native students, FLC's farmer training program focuses on growing at high elevations in short growing seasons, Whittlesey said.  

 "We've been honored to work with these inspiring Indigenous producers as they work to realize their goals, whether they plan to manage ranches, start market gardens, or return home to reservation lands to work in food sovereignty efforts," she said. "It's an exciting time to learn how to give Native agriculture space to thrive."  

 Daelyn Benally, a member of the Diné tribe and an FLC farmer training program alumni, said that continuing to produce food sustainably and thoughtfully, emphasizing soil health, is crucial for future food production – values championed by FLC.  

She highlighted the significance of empowering Native youth with knowledge and opportunities. "Having Native youth get the information so that they can participate in these opportunities and workshops (is really important)," Benally said.  

Brandon Francis, also a member of the Diné tribe and FLC alumni, said he now works as a farmer, making a point to educate people on traditional ecological and Indigenous agricultural knowledge. He is also a graduate student at New Mexico State University. 

"Something I try to relate to students is showing them that my ancestors were healthy, and they had it where they were self-sufficient and sustainable," he said. "Their deep connection with agriculture and their food was one of the reasons we're here today, and we're evidence of their deep love and connection with the Earth."  

Francis continued, "Right now, a lot of communities that Indigenous students come from, they either live in food deserts or food swamps where they don't have access to healthy food. Even one farmer can change a whole community."    

Since FLC started working with NAAF, Whittlesey said FLC has hosted 19 workshops focused on Indigenous food production, processing, and preparation and offered hundreds of hours of field training, classes, workshops, and presentations attended by other regional Indigenous producers. 

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