By Gail Poe
Home to the Osage Nation, with the entire county residing within the boundaries of the Osage Reservation, Osage County, OK, consists of more than 2,251 square miles of land mass and 53 square miles of water — an area larger than either Rhode Island or Delaware. Unfortunately, even with all this land mass, we live in an area that is designated as a “super food desert.” Osage Nation TA-WA AmeriCorps is working to find solutions to this problem.
Osage County is one of the most beautiful, diverse geographic locations in the nation. We have rolling hills, beautiful lakes, and the largest area of well-preserved tallgrass prairie land anywhere in the United States. Most of the county is designated as ranch land for the cultivation of cattle, bison and other livestock, with other agriculture relegated to the backseat due to the unsuitability of most of the beautiful land for growing and sustaining crops.
With the added hardship of no public transportation and only four grocery stores to serve the entire county, access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and preservative-free food products to maintain a healthy lifestyle has led to an almost epidemic rate of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses related to a poor nutritional diet.
But one thing that is not in short supply in the Osage is a determination to find a solution to a problem and a determination to pull together as a community to come up with those solutions. This is where the Corporation for National and Community Service comes in. The Osage Nation applied for and received funding for the Osage Nation TA-WA AmeriCorps program. (TA-WA is Osage for “community.”)
This program has allowed for community gardens to be placed in diverse sections of the communities, a greenhouse at Title VI program for the elders, and raised-bed gardens at seven Head Starts, Boys & Girls Clubs, and within two school districts.
Very innovative AmeriCorps members looked at the problems of lack of access to fresh foods and came up with the idea of placing demonstration aquaponic systems in all the Head Starts, Boys & Girls Clubs, the Cultural Center, the County Health Department and anywhere interest can be generated. AmeriCorps members also produced a guide on how to build and grow vegetables and fish in your home on a small scale. Members hold community educational workshops on raised-bed gardens, aquaponics, composting, and garden clubs for community members to share information and resources on gardening.
The Osage Nation Cultural Center has gone one step further and developed an Heirloom Cultural Seed Project behind the Center on a small plot of land. With the assistance of the AmeriCorps members and their volunteers, plans are in the works to expand the project to other communities in the Osage.
The enthusiastic and innovative approach to addressing the “food desert” designation of our community by the TA-WA AmeriCorps members is just what is needed for sustainable solutions in the Osage.
Gail Boe is Director of the Osage Nation Communities of Excellence. March has been designated Healthy Futures month for the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary celebration. To learn more about the celebration, visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary portal.