David and Patra Wise parked on West Second Street, their truck bed full of boxed tomatoes, carrots, crooked-neck squash and granite melons.
Jazmin Wong pushed a cart to and from the Wise’s truck, wheeling the goods into the American Indian Community Housing Organization, where the community-supported agriculture shares would await pickup.
This is the first CSA for the small-scale farmers of Native Wise LLC, but it’s “a favor to our farm,” said Petra Wise.
The Sawyer, Minnesota, farmers had an abundance of crop that they planned on selling at farmers markets, food stands and AICHO’s Niiwin Indigenous Foods Market this year.
They needed a change of plans when COVID-19 hit.
The Wises have two children, ages 1 and 3, and weren’t interested in selling their produce in person for safety concerns.
They reached out to Wong, who was already helping tackle food insecurity.
When the pandemic prompted shutdowns in March, AICHO began issuing 14-day food boxes to its tenants and members. “Food was a safety net. Food was security,” Wong said.
The Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center looked like a food pantry. It was filled with canned goods, and the freezers were full of meat and veggies. Wong and AICHO leadership called area farmers to help, and they used items from AICHO’s Indigenous First Arts and Gifts shop — such as pancake mix, jams and jellies, wild rice — to fill the boxes.
Wong also launched a shop website, which allowed people to order food remotely as well as helping indigenous makers and farmers continue some business.
David and Patra Wise approached Wong to see if they could sell their produce to their tenants. From there, they launched their Native Wise CSA. They marketed it and sold out 30 subscriptions in one week, Wong said.
Its popularity shows that Duluth needs some sort of indigenous food store, Wong said. “We should be able to bring indigenous, local foods into the heart of Duluth,” she said.
Along with staples like squash and greens, CSA offerings included wild rice, sage and smoked Lake Superior whitefish. “It saves us, it saves the customers,” David Wise said.
CSAs support local farmers and communities, it brings healthy foods back to families, Wong said.
Across the country, CSAs saw a spike this year due to coronavirus, according to Reuters.
Launching a CSA was a learning experience for Wong and the Wises.
They had to figure out the size of boxes, how much food to include, sanitization.
They aim for contactless pickups. They spray the boxes with vinegar to disinfect them before letting them sit. They wear gloves and masks, customers wear masks, and the carts they use are sanitized — safety is a priority, Wong said.
Had there been no CSA, the Wises would’ve had no outlet to sell their food, and they wouldn’t have made a life profit to support their family, she added.
It allows them to move this year’s veggies in a safe way, said David Wise, which is in line with their motto, Mino Mashkiki, or, the good medicine in Ojibwe.
David Wise was born into generational gardeners. His relatives lived in Sawyer before the reservation was formed, and he grew up learning the value of homegrown food, he said.
Through organic, sustainable and indigenous practices, the Wises grow organic vegetables, herbs, and they recently started a small CBD hemp farm. They have plans to include their CBD teas, balms or lotions in the future.
Also up next, more planning for mixed greens and plants with less pest issues, but they will remain within their values of organic and sustainably grown food.
The more we can do local food and sustainability, the better we’ll be in the future, said Patra Wise.
On pickup day last week, Melissa Gerads, of Duluth, said the CSA helps her eat healthier, and this one has a variety of goods, smoked fish, cantaloupe, peppers.
Julie Zimmer of Duluth sat in her car outside AICHO, waiting for her box. This is Zimmer’s first CSA, and it has introduced her to new veggies, such as kohlrabi.
It’s not one Zimmer would’ve gone out of her way to try, but she made kohlrabi steak fries in her, and she’s sold.
Also, “the sweetest corn I’ve ever had, and I don’t typically eat corn.”
Zimmer said she appreciates community-supported agriculture. “It benefits communities, AICHO, me. ...You don’t have to worry about the transportation cost on the environment because it’s really just your neighborhood to your door.”