A long-respected leader in the urban farming movement, Detroit has been home to over 1,400 farms and gardens for years. But according to most mainstream accounts, its agricultural roots don’t predate its French colonization and the ribbon farms that followed, despite a thriving Indigenous community that had been present for generations.
While the Indian Removal Act of the 1800s separated tribes from their foodways and families from their homelands, today a growing community of Native farmers, culinarians, and community organizations from all over Michigan is coming together to honor and preserve Indigenous traditions. In Detroit, Anishinaabe farmer Rosebud Schneider knows the impact of this work firsthand, which is why she is committed to making sure it gets passed on to the next generation in her new position as farmer at Keep Growing Detroit, an organization that promotes food sovereignty in the city.
For Schneider, a born-and-raised Detroiter who grew up on the city’s southwest side, having a connection to her Native culture was always a priority. “To me, that was my church. That was where I felt spiritually connected.” But when Schneider became a mother, and later a breastfeeding educator at Healthy Start, a free home visiting program that provides care to pregnant women and families, the connection between food and wellness became clear to her.
According to Schneider, to broaden its impact, Healthy Start formed a partnership with Sacred Roots, a program aimed at revitalizing Native foodways. It was there that she met Shiloh Maples, who developed Sacred Roots while working at American Indian Health & Family Services in Detroit. “We learned that folks wanted more connections to our foods — not just eating the food but also growing food and building skills around these cultural traditional foodways,” Schneider says. She became even more inspired to advance this work in Detroit after visiting Native communities in other parts of the country. She saw how they designed their integrated food systems and realized, If they are doing that, why can’t Detroit?
Schneider educates others on ancestral traditions that not only respect the Earth but promote people’s health and wellness. Among these traditions are more well-known practices like seed saving and foraging. But, recognizing the shared health disparities of communities of color, Schneider is perhaps most encouraged by the opportunity for reconnecting with foods that are culturally appropriate and healthy. “We are trying to focus on getting our people healthy, and [that means] reconnecting them with the way our people used to be.”