Dream of Wild Health is one of the longest operating Native American-led nonprofits in the Twin Cities. Since 1998, they have been working to restore Indigenous relationship with the land, and to offer access to healthy Indigenous foods and lifestyles.
On their 10-acre farm in Hugo (about 30 miles northeast of the Twin Cities), Dream of Wild Health grows crops that are valued in the Indigenous community for their heritage and for their health.
The seeds have a story to tell
More than 20 years ago, Dream of Wild Health received a letter from a Potawatomi elder named Cora Baker. The Potawatomi are a Native American people of the upper Mississippi River Basin and the western Great Lakes Region. Baker was living at the time near Wisconsin Dells, where she kept a garden for many years. She dried corn on the side of her barn after harvesting. Knowing that she was a Seed Keeper, neighbors gave her their seeds to save.
In the letter that arrived five months before she died, Baker wrote to Dream of Wild Health:
“I had prayed that someone would take this gardening up again. I am very pleased to learn about your project. I feel that the Great Creator has answered my prayers. I wish that someday the children will come to realize the importance of the garden again.”
With the help of her great granddaughter, Baker sent seeds from many different varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, Indigenous tobacco, melons, and medicinal plants to Dream of Wild Health. It was the start of an ancestral seed collection that now contains more than 100 varieties.
As word spread about the seed collection, others started sharing their seeds. One family donated Cherokee corn seeds carried on the original Trail of Tears: the forced relocation by the US Government of at least 100,000 Native Americans from the southeastern states to the western territories in 1830-1850.
Community Outreach and Cultural Teacher Hope Flanagan said, “The collection is a priceless legacy from our ancestors that continues to grow.”
The stewardship of the seed collection has been identified as a top priority for Dream of Wild Health, and is an ongoing effort. In 2019 they added the Seed Regeneration team: three additional farmers who work mainly with caring for the Indigenous seeds.
Native grown, youth led
It took time, but Cora Baker’s wish has been granted: Native American children are being taught the importance of the garden once again. Through Dream of Wild Health, the Hugo farm site hosts youth programs throughout the summer. According to Flanagan, “Last year, we grew 8.5 tons of produce on the farm, and we couldn’t have done it without our youth.”
On the farm, Native youth of all ages learn their individual cultural identities, and deepen their connection to the earth, water, pollinators, elders, and peers.
Cora’s Kids is the summer program for Native American kids ages 8-12. They learn the foundations of growing and eating healthy Indigenous food, as well as Native American culture and language, traditional crafts and games.
Garden Warriors is for teens ages 13-18. Youth are paid a stipend for their work on the farm and at the two farmers markets where food from the farm is sold. They learn the value of gardening, seed saving, foraging, sacred medicines, healthy cooking, Indigenous foods, leadership skills and more.
Garden Warriors who demonstrate maturity and commitment to succeeding in school are invited to join the Dream of Wild Health year-round Youth Leaders group. This is a way for Native American youth to take leadership in the community around nutrition, health, and food justice issues.
Flanagan is quick to point out, “We’re not on vacation out at the farm. Even though it’s fun, there is a lot of hard work to do. At the beginning of each session, we start with a naming ceremony. The young people are given a name while they’re at the farm. The name speaks to what their main responsibilities will be.
“We teach them that every plant has a gift to offer: food, utility, medicine. In our legends, we talk about how the plants were eager to offer their gifts. We challenge the young people to ask themselves, ‘How are you offering your gifts so that all life benefits?’”
Food fresh from the farm at two local markets
On June 3, the Four Sisters Market will start their summer season selling produce from the Hugo farm. From 11 a.m. - 3p.m. each Thursday, the market booth will set up in the Pow Wow Grounds Coffee Shop parking lot at 1414 East Franklin Ave.
The Four Sisters Market offers ingredients not usually found in other farmers markets: ground cherries, summer berries, Indigenous salad mixes such as amaranth greens and lams quarter, wild rice, Indigenous corn and squash varieties, heirloom tomatoes, fresh herbs, wild harvested foods when available, and much more.
Produce from the Hugo farm is also available for sale at the Midtown Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays from 3-7 p.m. beginning June 1. That market is located in the Moon Palace Books Courtyard at 3032 Minnehaha Avenue.
To learn more about Dream of Wild Health or to donate to their effort of maintaining the Indigenous seed collection in their care, visit https://dreamofwildhealth.org.