To strengthen local meat supply chain infrastructures, First Nations is providing financial support and technical assistance and resources to help Native communities develop tribal food policies and start or grow micro meat processing facilities to increase access to locally produced, sustainably managed meat.
As part of First Nations’ Nourishing Native Foods & Health Program, the Forging Last-Mile Protein Supply Chains in Indian Country project is designed to increase jobs, producer profits, circulation of food budget dollars, and the amount of locally produced food available, while at the same time shortening food supply chains, which will benefit producers, consumers, and overall Native communities. Additional economic and social benefits are expected, including an increase in the viability of small farms, ranches, and small businesses; stabilization and support of rural schools and economies; and strengthening of community ownership of their protein supplies, thereby their tribal food sovereignty.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of meat supply chains in Native communities. With meat-packing plants closing to contain outbreaks of the virus, livestock producers have struggled to butcher and package their meat to be sold, causing meat shortages and increased prices in groceries nationally. Native communities, which are often located at the “last mile” of many food supply chains, have experienced the brunt of this meat supply chain disruption. Frequently these communities have been left with much smaller quantities of very low-quality meat at higher prices, if it is available at all.
At the same time, many Native producers have grass-fed cows and livestock that are sustainably managed in line with traditional practices and that could be sources of high-quality protein for their communities. However, because these producers must rely on the same meat-packing plants that have been impaired by the pandemic, there is an urgent need to create and support a more resilient meat supply chain. Focus must be placed on building capacity and infrastructure at the local level to ensure that local producers and consumers have reliable access to sustainably managed, high-quality protein.
With support from First Nations’ Keepseagle Endowment and funding from Ronald W. Naito Foundation, this First Nations pilot project will make it possible for six rural Native American communities across the country to:
- Establish the viability and feasibility of building their own food systems to increase access to food provided by locally produced livestock through increased short-term capacity building, planning, learning from role models, and resource development.
- Create a framework to build their overall food economy long-term, from leveraging key assets to developing value-added products.
- Identify federal and private funding sources to support the infrastructure and logistics of their food systems.
- Purchase the necessary equipment to butcher, store, and market locally produced meat and value-added products.
- Attain certification in meat processing and training in related food codes, increasing their communities’ potential for food production from locally produced livestock.