From Acorns to Apple to iPods

Jennifer Sowerwine, left, invited project design input from tribes and other communities in the Orleans area in a new $4 million, five-year grant to improve access to healthy and affordable food in the Klamath Basin. The project is one of 21 across the country funded by the USDA. Several of its elements will promote gathering of traditional foods like acorns and salmon and will examine management practices that affect them./Photo by Malcolm Terence, TRT Contributing Writer

By MALCOLM TERENCE, TRT Contributing Writer

It would make a good movie script: a group is given a million dollars and the job of improving the world.

It’s even better in real life: the group—scientists, academics and organizers from tribes and other communities from Klamath on the coast to Klamath Falls in the headwaters—are given four million dollars and their focus can be just the Klamath Basin.

The majority of the funds are going to three tribes in the basin.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing the money over the course of four years, wants to improve health of local people and the group has a plan with more parts than a very long movie.

The local grant is one of 21 grants totaling $75 million funding proposals, mainly from universities across the country to promote food security through research, education and extension activities.

Jennifer Sowerwine, from UC Berkeley, was the main author for the basin-wide grant proposal, but she developed the plan with input from the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes, and from the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, UC Cooperative Extension, San Francisco State and  College of the Redwoods, plus other stakeholders in education and food production.

For a summary of the project, visit the link:

Sowerwine, who did her doctoral work on women’s traditional medicine in the mountains of Vietnam, is the director of the project and each of the co-partner groups has a co-project director.

For example, for the Karuk Tribe, the co-project director is Bob Rohde. He will work with Ron Reed and Bill Tripp. Also working with them will be Dr. Frank K. Lake, Research Ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Fire and Fuels Program.

All members of tribal and other communities in the Basin are also invited to take part in the multi-layered programs including classes and workshops. The scope covers everybody from school kids to elders and from farmers to school lunchrooms.

Sowerwine defines food security as the availability, accessibility and affordability of fresh, healthy and culturally appropriate foods. Tribes have a special interest in better influencing land management to reintroduce traditional foods, everything from acorns to salmon, into everyday life.

Sowerwine, who lives in both Berkeley and Somes Bar, acknowledges that this element of her project is far from the usual tractors, pesticides and markets emphasis associated with the USDA.

In its news release, the USDA wrote, “Millions of American households lack the resources to access sufficient food… The grants will help recognize…the food and nutrition needs of low-income communities in our country.”

Much has been written about the collapse of traditional food systems in the area and there are campaigns already going in many communities along the rivers but the size and scope of the new grant adds important momentum to their efforts.

At a meeting held in mid-January with many of the mid-Basin collaborators, Ron Reed said that Tribal contact with White occupiers occurred in this area in the 1850s, recent enough that much traditional knowledge is still intact.

But access to traditional foods and materials has been curtailed by agency and property boundaries and by land management activities that have diminished resources like salmonid populations.

Forty-five local stakeholders attended the session and broke into three discussion groups: traditional foods, youth community education and contemporary food production and distribution.

They shared information about how their work connects with the grant and how working groups might be formed around specific topics. This project utilizes a participatory action research approach, to learn from and engage community members centrally in the project.

The grant has a long acronym, USDA-NIFA-AFRI-Food Security Grant, and an even longer name. The January meeting convened people who had committed support in the early stages or who were identified by Tribes as key contributors in the project.

Young people will learn how to conduct health assessments. They will interact with Tribal elders and also participate in 4-H activities and attend seasonal youth camps that will be linked to food production and healthy lifestyles.

Seasonal food crews will harvest native foods such as acorns, mushrooms, nuts, berries and salmon as well as produce from community gardens, greenhouses, orchards and local farm surpluses. Still in the planning stage, this bounty would be distributed to elders, schools, the commodity distribution program and community members in need.

Expert advice and region-specific ag pamphlets will be available to local farmers and gardeners, and there are plans for building new greenhouses to grow vegetables to start community gardens, farmers markets and host events that promote buying fresh, local food.

Orchards, many of them abandoned or neglected, will be inventoried and rehabilitated by local crews, and a community apple press will be available for making juice.

Native plant specimens will be collected for a tribal herbarium, a kind of a botanical archive, and a digital library will be started to collect information gathered by researchers, interviewers and other surveys. Community members will be invited to attend workshops to learn how to utilize these resources.

One higher-tech element of the project will teach members of the Karuk Youth Leadership Council to use iPods to map their neighborhoods for food sources including stores, restaurants and gardens and note which of their offerings are healthy or non-healthy.

The KYLC members will also survey their peers about access to fresh fruit and vegetables, their views about their health and challenges to staying healthy. Then they will learn to analyze and present the data they collect and develop possible solutions,  which they can test in future years of the grant.

Movie scripts notwithstanding, happy endings in the off-screen world take a lot of work. But Jenny Sowerwine says she hopes for serious improvements at the end of the five years covered by the grant. She says the project has an evaluation plan called a logic model. Logic Model is a tool to measure impact.

It starts with outlining the desired end result that the communities hope to achieve by the end of Year-Five. It then maps backward to Year-One to decide best approach and specific activities that could be implemented in order to achieve the intended outcomes.

This approach moves beyond “outputs” such as number of activities held or numbers of people who participated, to measuring “outcomes” or actual changes in knowledge, skill, and action.

Examples might be how many pounds of acorns were harvested and distributed to elders or how many families have started home-gardens or learned how to can. There is much evaluation and adjustment along the way.

In Year-Six, which is after the grant, she hopes the communities will have more secure and healthier food available and resources will be better developed to grow, gather, process and eat locally healthful foods.

To learn more about the project, or to find out how to become involved, contact Jennifer Sowerwine at: .

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