Current Projects

Forging Last-Mile Protein Supply Chains in Indian Country

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 (see 2021 Grantees below) 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.

2021 Grantees

Benson Turner Foods, Inc.

Benson Turner Foods will increase access to protein on the reservation and surrounding areas and build the local economy, serving the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (Bois Forte Band, Fond du Lac Band, Grant Protage Band, Leech Lake Band, Mille Lacs Band, White Earth Band). They plan to accomplish this by designing a butchering facility, purchasing six cattle to age and store, and purchasing their first six hogs to butcher.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Buffalo Authority Corporation

This project of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Buffalo Authority Corporation aims to provide access to local Native producer-sourced beef and buffalo meat products through opening a meat market storefront in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. The meat market storefront will also create new value-added marketing opportunities. The project will involve securing a location for the storefront, purchasing equipment, advertising, and completing market research and development.

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe-Hunkpati Processors

Through this project serving Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the organization will build a 2,600-square-feet meat packing plant (Hunkpati Processors) near their Crow Creek Tribal Ranch, which already raises livestock. They will conduct hands-on training to six community members to be butchers. Ultimately, they plan to have the building constructed, equipment purchased, and a steady meat supply to the community in place by fall 2021.

Major Market, Inc.

Serving the Zuni Tribe and Ramah Navajo, Major Market will invest in up-to-date butchering equipment, train four butchers, and secure partnerships with local meat suppliers. They will conduct a market feasibility study on the sale of locally produced meat, do a market analysis of available protein suppliers, and do a cost analysis of a full-scale beef and protein facility.

Oneida Nation

The Oneida Nation has long been limited in its ability to process and sell fresh meat to Tribal members in the Oneida community. With this support, Oneida Nation will assume the responsibility of processing their own meats, allowing Oneida Nation more control and greater Tribal sovereignty. Further, Oneida Nation will conduct a feasibility study for developing a meat processing business on the Oneida Nation reservation.

Trilogy Beef Community

This project of Trilogy Beef is designed to improve the profitability of small Native ranchers who are currently or who are interested in marketing their beef to customers, beginning with their local community. Ranchers will receive training in direct marketing through the Western Meat School. They will establish a centralized point to coordinate live cattle, store fresh and frozen products, and sort products for distribution to Native communities. They will also create an online virtual platform for Native communities to order products from an established and safe delivery network.