Access to these first foods is also imperative for the overall health and life expectancy of Indigenous peoples. Chantay Anderson, project coordinator for the Nisqually Community Garden, highlighted the problem of food deserts on reservations.
Before white settlers colonized what is now Washington, almost 300 different types of food were eaten on a Coast Salish diet, which is very different from the westernized diet that many native people eat. now, which typically consists of 13 to 20 different foods per year. according to Serest.
Now, many reservations are considered food deserts: areas where there are not enough supermarkets to serve residents. With few fresh produce and other healthy food options available, people living there become dependent on off-reserve supermarkets that can be hours away.
Native Americans make up less than 2% of the population but suffer from some of the highest rates of food insecurity, diet-related illnesses and other socioeconomic challenges, according to a 2019 food security journal. It was not until the 1950s that the first case of diabetes was documented in the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Today, diabetes is among the top three killers of indigenous peoples in the region, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
To combat this epidemic, the Nisqually Community Garden was born in 2009. The five-acre garden grows tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, kale, carrots, and all the other common vegetables you find in a grocery store. The community garden is also home to an apple orchard, a large patch of blueberries, and native medicinal plants such as nettle, fir tips, cedar, and maple blossoms.
When there is more time and extra produce, garden workers make tinctures, salves, lip balms, lotions, elderberry syrups, and other natural medicines. Everything that is harvested or created is distributed free of charge to the citizens of Nisqually.
“Access is really important, and it’s really great to do the kind of work that can potentially make a difference in someone’s life,” said Anderson, project coordinator for the Nisqually Community Garden.
In early spring, new garden beds are built for the elders who live on the reserve so they can start growing their own food. From July to September, the workers distribute boxes of products grown in the garden to seniors. The organization also sets up weekly garden stands that citizens of the Nisqually Tribe can visit to pick up anything they might want or need.