State’s Native Food Markets Expand as Native Americans Reclaim Heritage | News, Sports, Jobs
LANSING — When Ziibimijwang Farm sells maple sugar at Mackinaw City’s Minongin Market, it’s more than a business transaction — it represents Indigenous food sovereignty.
Further north in the Upper Peninsula, partners Jerry Jondreau and Katy Bresette operate Dynamite Hill Farms in L’Anse.
“The way we put it is ‘let’s get back to our responsibilities'” said Jondreau.
Social media and online sales have fueled both operations amid growing availability of indigenous food resources nationwide.
“With colonization and boarding schools, a lot of things were taken away from us,” said Joe VanAlstine, president of Ziibimijwang Inc. “For us to come back and claim this, people are just hungry for it, no pun intended.”
Minogin Market opened in 2018 in Mackinaw City’s former fish market, Bell’s Fishery.
VanAlstine and his colleagues thought about how they could use the market to claim their Odawa Indian identity.
Located at the Mitten Point of Michigan, Mackinaw City was historically the commercial hub of the Great Lakes region. Today, it is a gateway to the upper peninsula which has become a tourist hotspot.
“You can go buy one of these Chinese-made dreamcatchers or you can come to Minogin and buy a real one, made by a real Native American,” said VanAlstine.
Jondreau, the owner of Dynamite Hill Farms, said his background has more to do with his relationship to the land as a tribal citizen.
“As the Odjibwe people, it is our responsibility to take care of this place and maintain a relationship,” he said. “You can’t do that if you’re never there and don’t participate, just like a personal relationship.”
Dynamite Hill Farms was established in 2019 after Jondreau left his teaching position at Michigan Tech University to continue mining maple sugar and harvesting wild rice. He uses the term “Business” freely. The farm is a family function which he runs with Bresette, their children and an occasional volunteer.
“We believe this is the real path to sustainability – the small scale”, said Jondreau. “We do everything on a less official basis. People will ask questions and we’ll say, “You know what, why don’t you just come and camp here for the weekend?” Come here and bring some sap with us and we’ll have a few conversations.
As former teachers, education is central to everything he and Bresette do. Although Dynamite Hill products are available for purchase on Facebook, Jondreau prefers to conduct the sales in person so they can explain the process behind the foods they harvest.
“It’s not just about mining and selling, it’s about healing and restoring,” said Jondreau. “Was there any tobacco laid? Were there prayers said to these trees when they were tapped? These are the things that will create sustainability. These are the things that will create the healing of this land again.
Jondreau’s alternative approach to business is what host Andi Murphy of “Grilled Sister Podcast”, a radio show about Native American cooking, calls “Indigenomics”.
Profit making is often idolized in the current economic system, she said. “But in Native America, we always think about our community and make it a better place and a better place. This is the main difference.
Building Indigenous food sovereignty by reclaiming the presence of Indigenous products in the Mackinac region and across the country is the mission of Ziibimijwang and Minogin Market, VanAlstine said. The farm also packs boxes of food for the elders of the tribe.
Additionally, Ziibimijwang partners with indigenous chefs who use farm produce in their kitchens, VanAlstine said.
Crystal Wahpepah, the first Indigenous chef to appear on the Food Network show “Chopped,” is one of Ziibimijwang’s regulars. “She buys maple products exclusively from us. So we ship them all the way to California for her.
The farm is also in partnership with Tocabe, a contemporary Native American restaurant in Denver. The restaurant will soon launch Tocabe Express, a ready-to-cook meal delivery service that will include ingredients and instructions for preparing the restaurant’s most popular dishes at home. A star meal at Tocabe Express is maple-rubbed bison ribs.
“In this rub they use our maple sugar,” said VanAlstine. “So you’ll get maple sugar from us and they’ll tell you where all the ingredients come from.”
Collecting native food is a way for VanAlstine to connect with his ancestors.
“I eat the same food as them” he said. “And it brings me closer to them, knowing that they tasted the same fish as me, from the same river and the same lakes. For me, that’s the joy — having more of our people feel that way.
Whether through a hands-on educational approach or nationwide partnerships, Dynamite Hill Farms and Minogin Market are strengthening the presence of Indigenous agricultural wisdom in the United States.
“Getting excited about these indigenous flavors is the most important part of food sovereignty,” Murphy said. “And it doesn’t happen without those entrepreneurs making it available.”