Healthy Food, Healthy People


By Brett Larson, September 3, 2015

Gardens, greenhouses cropping up in all three districts
A movement toward local and healthy food is spreading quickly across the country. Farmers’ markets are nearly as common as supermarkets — and supermarkets are increasing their offerings in organic and whole foods.

Mille Lacs Band members and Band employees are part of this trend.

Kevin Pawlitschek is a Band member who became interested in gardening as a child and is now charged with bringing community gardens and greenhouses to all three districts.

After a career in the gaming industry, Kevin moved to the Mille Lacs area, where he’s been working in the Band’s food distribution program for the last four years.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is a Federal program that provides food to low-income households living on or near Indian reservations.

The Band’s food distribution program is managed by the Community Support Services (CSS) Department, a branch of Health and Human Services.

Kristian Theisz, the director of CSS, recognized Kevin’s green thumb, and the two have quickly turned dreams into reality. “The commodities program doesn’t always have the healthiest choices,” Kristian said. “We’ve taken the initiative to move into food production in order to provide organic, locally-grown items.”

Kevin believes that poor nutrition contributes to many problems people face in life. “We need foods that are high in nutrients and vitamins to keep our brains and bodies functioning at their highest level,” he said. “Eating fresh, local food is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.”

Kristian also pointed out that Deb Foye, the Food Services Coordinator at Nay Ah Shing, has the gardening bug. Teachers are using her extensive garden to teach students about health and food production.

Also instrumental in the projects is Gordon Sam, who learned gardening while working for the DNR under Leonard Sam. “I like being outside,” said Gordon. “I’m not ready for an office job.”

Roads Supervisor Tony Pike and his crew have also helped out with free use of mowers, Bobcat and post pounders.

This spring, Gordon and Kevin started plants in a greenhouse near the commodities building and transplanted them to outdoor gardens and the fields on Sodbusters Road, where Leonard’s gardens used to be. Gordon and Kevin have also set up a greenhouse at the Sodbusters site to start more plants next spring.

In District II, a garden has been developed at the Assisted Living Unit, and a greenhouse is under construction. Lisa Benjamin has been tending the gardens, and she’s loving the work.

In District III, the team is experimenting with “aquaponics” — a combination of “aquaculture” (raising fish) and “hydroponics” (growing vegetables directly in water).

Kristian and Kevin visited an aquaponics program in Milwaukee, and they are hoping to send staff members, including Gordon, for training. They also hope to construct a new garden and greenhouse in the Aazhoomog area.

Other Band departments are also considering programs to provide Band members with healthy food and satisfying jobs in the great outdoors. Stay tuned to Inaajimowin and for more news about agriculture and gardening as Band members’ visions take shape.