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'Food is health': how Tsyunhehkwa Agriculture nourishes the community

Posted at 8:07 PM, Jun 02, 2023

ONEIDA (NBC 26) — Tsyunhehkwa: it translates to "life sustenance," or another way to say nourishment.

That's what Tsyunhehkwa Agriculture in Oneida is providing for the community.

"Weekly, we send 150 pounds to the community to our cannery, so they can produce what they need to feed the community," Luwatiya'takenhas (Crystal) Danforth, the farm's community outreach coordinator, said. "We'll go through each one by one, taking out the broken pieces or ones that might not look right, then when we have enough, we’ll push it down into the clean bucket."

Danforth describes working with traditional white corn, one staple of the farm and a crop that takes up 11 acres of their land.

The farm has been around for more than 20 years, and during this time, she said it's filled a big community need.

"We provide the food for our people in the community, and we also do workshops with elders and kids," she said.

Aside from white corn, Danforth said beef, eggs and other vegetables can be found on the farm and another tradition: tobacco plants.

“For us as Indigenous people, the meaning of tobacco for us is our prayers. That’s how our prayers are sent up in the smoke that we give," Danforth said. "We give thanks to our tobacco, and smoke brings our prayers right up to our creator.”

She said the goals of Tsyunhehkwa are to not only educate people on traditional agriculture like tobacco, but to also feed the community and give back.

“We grow the food, we provide the food, and then we give the food to the Oneida Cannery," she said. "The cannery produces that food and gives it out to our community and everywhere it needs.”

Another goal of the farm: to live by the mantra "food is health."

"If we can get back to our traditional ways, our traditional foods, our healthy foods, it can help heal some of the diseases that are out there that are harming our community members," Danforth said.

Vanessa Miller, Oneida Nation Food and Agriculture Area Manager, reiterated this mantra.

“We know definitely the immediate health benefits that come from the return to our indigenous diet, but the mental health, spiritual health and economic health positive implications that come from strengthening our local food systems are a wide variety," Miller said.

Miller said having a farm like Tsyunhehwka is so important for the community because it's a resource.

"It's there as some technical assistance for the community," Miller said. "It's really there to educate, provide outreach and empower community members and households in growing our own foods, processing our own foods and harvesting our own foods."

Danforth said anyone is embraced with open arms to stop by the farm to help prepare corn or to just learn more about the mission. She said they have a "barter system" for volunteers to give time in exchange for beef from the farm.

“The best gift I have is actually just taking back what I take in and what I learn," she said.

The farm has community educational workshops and events regularly. More information can be found here.