About Us

The White Earth Mobile Market is managed by the White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative. This initiative is managed by the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe through the White Earth Natural Resource division and White Earth Agriculture Department. 

About White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative

Mission Statement

The White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative believes a strong, affordable localized food system rooted in Anishinaabe traditions is vital to the holistic health and sovereignty of the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.


            The effect of colonization of Native Americans across the United States still has a profound negative impact on the diet and health through the devastating loss of cultural traditional agriculture through force and violence. Pre-colonist tribes had a bounty of foods such as berries, corn, beans, squash, fish, bison and hundreds of other animals and plants on turtle island. Currently our food system in the United States is in a sad state consisting of empty calories, high fats, overly processed and unhealthy foods enslaved to make as much profit as possible. Moving from eating traditional foods to a diet high in sugar, salt and fat is the central cause that has aggravated most health problems in the Native American community. Since the introduction of processed foods, health issues for Native American people have risen drastically. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading causes of death for Native Americans in 2010 were heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, diabetes is the 6th leading cause of death for Minnesotans, with American Indians dying at five times the rate of non-Hispanic whites. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Report on County Health Rankings, Mahnomen County (which rests entirely within the boundaries of the White Earth Reservation) is ranked lowest, 87th out of 87 counties for health factors and outcomes as well as diabetes prevalence. Mahnomen County was also to be revealed to be the second worst county in Minnesota for limited access to healthy foods (19% of the population), where the average for Minnesota counties was 6%. Becker and Clearwater counties, the other two counties that reside in the White Earth reservation are 14% and 17% food insecure.

The White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative (WEFSI) is driven directly by the White Earth community itself for the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The WEFSI holds regular monthly community meetings for the last three years. These food sovereignty meetings are also healing meetings. We do the best we can to prepare foods that are traditional or at least healthy. This is our time to sit, visit and connect in person which is often lost in our busy technological age. The meeting held in Dec 2018, we had smoked goldeneye from Red Lake Fisheries brought by David Manuel, canned venison sliders from the White Earth Tribal and Community College Extension Education Department, wild rice and buffalo brats from White Earth and quinoa salad from Diane McArthur, our White Earth Nutritionist with White Earth Health Dept. We have fruitful conversations that streamline ideas through past months keeping us on track and building towards a grounded food system in White Earth. We also will invite outside speakers from organizations such as the University of Minnesota Extension, non-profits such as the White Earth Land Recovery Project, foundations, State Ag Dept. representatives, and other individuals who join us from time-to-time to learn about our community needs to determine what effort can be made as an ally of our work. Those attending our meetings regularly know that we each play a slice in filling the big circle of food sovereignty. We all go back to our departments and families to expand upon our gifts that fits us as individuals and within the community. Then when we come back together again, we share our experiences increasing our communal understanding of our progress and how to effectively work together as a group. By having such an extraordinary diverse group of community focused on food sovereignty so close to the ground level come together regularly, we are able to act as branches on a connected system of roots, as we are all well aware that there is much work yet to be done.

The overall health of the White Earth community members is of vital importance. There are many areas of health - mental health, dietary health, disease treatment, physical improvement, as well as elder and youth care. We focus on food and health, or food as medicine as a healing and universal glue to bring people together to heal our bodies, minds, spirit. There are sometimes challenges of accessing traditional and healthy food living in the rural country - even when there are plenty of people gathering, planting and hunting for themselves or their families. When observing food access from an eagle’s view in terms of placement of big grocery stores where most people shop for their daily foods, the majority of the White Earth Reservation is considered a federally recognized food dessert because many people live upwards of 20 – 30 miles away from one. And even when shopping at the big grocery stores, there is limited access to traditional or healthy foods.

The beginnings of the White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative started in 2014 when the White Earth Economic Development Department identified a need for a mobile grocery store and a grant from the Indian Health Service back in 2014. The White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative (WEFSI) was formalized in the fall of 2017 to move this project forward as well as recognize and formalize other community identified food sovereignty projects. Through listening to White Earth community members, we wrote a Food Sovereignty Survey in 2017-2018 in which we received over 225 responses. The results revealed many findings about our demographics that will address in our dialogue moving forward. One of those being the lack of cooking and reasons why. We also found out that the White Earth community is very invested in all of the programs suggested to aid in increasing traditional and healthy food access which were; a Farm-to-School program, a Tribally Shared Agriculture program from a White Earth Farm and a Mobile Market Grocery. Over 90% of the community still identified a Mobile Grocery unit as a need for food security on the reservation.

In October 2017, the White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative (WEFSI) staff started with one person, Zachary Paige as coordinator. With limited staff we are limited to make a larger impact quickly, however we utilize volunteers from the White Earth community and beyond to start our White Earth Community Pilot Farm. Volunteers include the Extension Education Department of White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC), families and interested community members, White Earth Natural Resource Dept., ACUTE Care men’s health facility, youth from the White Earth 4-H, college students from MState, Global Citizens Network non-profit, and many more. In 2018, we grew, cultivated and harvested three sisters (corn, beans, squash) plots using traditional mounding system together with a family and elder program that met weekly and collectively learned the entire gardening process. We sourced traditional seeds to plant and are expanding our seed collection. We grew diversified vegetables such as pumpkins, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes as well as strawberries in a low tunnel system to keep out weeds. We were also involved in a cover crop project led by Vivian Wauters from the Grossman lab in the University of MN as well as a sweet corn taste test project from Iowa State University Organic program. The cover crop project showed which varieties of cover crops worked best in our soil type throughout the summer and demonstrated how they keep the soil cool, keeping soil microbes alive and adding soil organic matter. We held a community soil health day to showcase the results of this trial as well as discuss soil health principals from both a sustainable farming and  traditional viewpoint.

In 2018, we also purchased a food truck to cook and distribute traditional healthy foods throughout the reservation. To support this project, we received funds from the Indian Health Service (IHS), First Nations Development Institute (FNDI), the Good Food Access Fund (GFAF) and the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. We purchased our food truck primarily with GFAF dollars from Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef and re-branded it with a design to show that we will be selling not only prepared traditional foods off the truck at events, but also will be a mobile grocery distribution unit. In the summer of 2018, we grew strawberries and ground cherries at our farm and sold them as smoothies at the Mahnomen Farmer’s Market, White Earth and Rice Lake pow wows to advertise the truck and showcase what we will be providing as a Mobile Market. We held meetings with the truck (and of course cooked a traditional meal at each one) in the communities in White Earth that have limited access to grocery stores such as Rice Lake and Naytahwaush to get the community council’s opinion on route schedules and drop off points for the future mobile grocery.

There are other agricultural projects happening such as a bison and hemp program that are just getting some footing. The big picture for the White Earth Ag Dept. when relating to the WEFSI is to continue to grow out more traditional seeds on more acreage and provide the White Earth Businesses with traditional foods such as corn, beans, squash, popcorn and more to package and sell back to community members at an affordable price. We also grow out and keep pure many varieties of old seeds that are very often higher in nutrition than conventional hybrids. The hemp program has a potential to supply jobs, as well as the opportunity to grow and produce hemp as an agricultural product on a medium to large scale.

Along with our food sovereignty meetings, we provide many forms of outreach to the community to get the word out in what we do. One way we do this is through our tilling program, in which we tilled over 70 community members gardens in 2018 and provide gardeners access to seeds. We post articles on social media, on the radio, and through our tribal newspaper. We host events throughout the year at our White Earth Community Farm in Mahnomen, MN as well as the Indigenous Farming Conference gathering.

            The WEFSI also works on creating a new White Earth food policy as there is currently none in place. We work together with Indian Health Service, White Earth Community College Extension, the Health Dept. and others to create a document that will both be useful for following good food handling procedures for individuals, vendors and businesses while protecting wild foods and traditional harvest and gathering of wild plants and game.

The WEFSI was created for the purpose of creating a new tribal food system that relies on traditional and locally produced foods and to become more food and seed sovereign. To become economically sovereign is also a goal. We will collaborate with the White Earth Market to increase the sale and purchase of traditional foods and find ways to economically support producers and harvesters. The WEFSI offers a proactive approach to food system development, utilizing information directly from the communities and tribal members in White Earth. The WEFSI is inspired by the knowledge of other organizations such as the Red Lake Local Foods Initiative, Oneida Market, and Wozupi (Shakopee). We will also work together to help support other tribal food programs in our region that are mutually beneficial. Special consideration is made to ensure that youth and elders participate in and benefit from the efforts of the Food Sovereignty Initiative.

            The Food Sovereignty Initiative will serve as a program for technical expertise and as well an entity that coordinates and administers promotion of health, economic stability, and education about traditional and local foods. The White Earth Mobile Market grocery store and food truck acts as a business. We intend to move this business to continue and deepen collaboration with the White Earth Market and become an arm of the market to help promote and support traditional food suppliers in the White Earth community.

These objectives can be summarized with three broadly spanning goals:

  1. Increase collaboration among existing tribal resources to support a strong Food Sovereignty Initiative Working Group
  2. Increase the access to and consumption of fresh, healthy, and seasonal produce and traditional foods by White Earth tribal and community members
  3. Aid the capacity within the White Earth community to grow our local food economy

Structure of the White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative

            The White Earth Food Sovereignty Initiative (WEFSI) was formed with the goal of tying together the efforts of the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, various organizations, and community members dedicated to improving the overall health of the White Earth Reservation.

            A working group of stakeholders was formed to discuss the Food Sovereignty Initiative underway on tribal lands. Not only does the working group inform the Food Sovereignty Initiative, but it also acts as a collaborative effort between the groups. Meetings are held monthly with a local foods meal where White Earth community members are encouraged to participate. Representative of these departments make up the WEFSI working group:

Food Sovereignty Initiative Working Group Partnerships

White Earth Natural Resources Department

White Earth Economic Development

White Earth Tribal & Community College Extension Department 

White Earth Market

White Earth 4 H

WE Elder Wellness Program

White Earth Tribal Health

White Earth Community Farmers Market

White Earth SNAP Education

Indian Health Service

Red Lake Nation Foods

Sioux Chef

Indigenous Ag Council

Manna Food Co-Op

White Earth Land Recovery Project

Sustainable Farming Association

Toxic Taters