NAYA’s Community Garden is part of a vision to reclaim our land, and to create a space where Native American traditions and practices are honored and celebrated. We believe in the power of cultivating our own food to feed our community and fostering a sense of tradition through sustainable gardening practices. Located at Neerchokikoo, an ancient Native encampment and gathering site near the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette River, NAYA is creating a welcoming space for our community to gather and connect with the land and their culture.
Nutrition and soil
Nutrition begins with soil health. If the soil that we grow our food in is healthy and full of minerals, then these will also be present in our food. At NAYA we are working to be responsible stewards of soil so that the food we grow and give to community is full of nutrients. We add amendments to the soil and plenty of organic compost to improve soil health as we know if we take care of the soil, healthy plants and healthy people will follow.
Native foods in the vegetable garden
We grow a variety of greens, herbs, vegetables and tubers in the vegetable garden. Two plants that we are stewarding are the Makah Ozette potato and Inchelium Red garlic. Inchelium Red is the oldest known variety of garlic strain in North America. It has come from the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation and is now a food being revitalized by the Colville people. Inchelium Red garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in late June.
The Makah Ozette potato was grown by the Makah Tribe prior to colonization. It was left on the coast near Ozette by Spanish colonizers that brought it to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) from the Andes and left it in a garden when they abandoned their fort. This potato has no genetic relationship to European potato varieties and so is very much a Native American potato. See Slow Food Seattle’s website for more details of the story of this potato and some delicious recipes to cook with it. We’re really excited to be stewarding these foods that have a history in the PNW and making them available to people today.
A large area of our garden is dedicated to First Foods. We’ll have the 3 sisters (corn, beans, squash), sunflowers, amaranth, sunchokes, as well as experimenting growing Wasco/Sahaptin roots: bitterroot, biscuit root, and wild carrot. Camas root is growing in our hedgerow alongside our other native plants. Camas is probably one of the more widely known roots in the PNW. Camas grows all over the PNW and is valued for its versatility and the number of ways it can be cooked and stored. Its bulbs resemble those of an onion, and have a sweet taste when cooked. All of the aforementioned roots are included in the order of first foods for many Northwest tribes. The roots are honored at the annual root feasts held at longhouses across the region in springtime. The feasts are an honoring of the first foods and also mark the beginning of the gathering season.
Portland Clean Energy Fund Grant
As a part of Portland City Council’s approval of clean energy grants, NAYA received a $3.69 million, 5-year grant from the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund for renewable agriculture and green infrastructure. Funds will be used to convert 4.2 acres of former baseball fields, located in the back of our main campus in Northeast Portland, into a farm, traditional medicine garden, community gathering space, and playscape.
The PCEF grant will help us develop a Native Food Sovereignty project centered on traditional agricultural practices that honor the agricultural practices of our ancestors on Turtle Island. For generations, these practices have nourished our people and nurtured the land we call home.
We recognize that the climate crisis and the dispossession of Indigenous lands are deeply rooted in the legacy of colonialism. Our mission is to directly address these interconnected issues by focusing on Indigenous land sovereignty and reviving ecological stewardship practices. In doing so, we pay homage to the wisdom of our past and lay the groundwork for a resilient and sustainable future.
NAYA’s Community Garden thrives with the support of volunteers and volunteer groups. Over the past two years, the garden’s footprint has grown with the help of hundreds of volunteers who chose to create a new UnThanksgiving tradition and nurture our land. Throughout the season, volunteer days are held on Mondays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to till, prepare our beds, plant, mulch, cultivate, weed, harvest, and then prepare for the winter months. The cycle continues year to year.
U-Pick Days for the community
An opportunity for our Native community members to participate in their own food harvest, U-Pick days are held during the month of September when harvest is in full swing. For information regarding NAYA Community Garden U-Pick Days contact Community Health Worker Lucy Suppah at SuppahL@nayapdx.org.
Northwest Indigenous Food Sovereignty Alliance
NAYA is proud to be a member of the Northwest Indigenous Food Sovereignty Alliance (NIFSA). The alliance is made up of numerous community partners working toward true food sovereignty in the Portland Area.
Collectively, each partner is committed reclaiming Indigenous people’s’ ability to access and manage traditional food sources.
NAYA’s community garden contributes to the food sovereignty movement in several ways including:
- Providing space for the food and medicine garden
- Sustainable harvesting
- Ecosystem restoration
- Food and medicine distribution to elders and others
- Networking and resource sharing
- Opportunities to connect with land