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Student leader passionate about the potential of aquaponics

Lucas Humblet

In June 2015, Lucas Humblet (Oneida) was working in a machine shop recycling pallets when a chop saw accident took the pinkie finger off his left hand. Humblet, who’d been working in the shop for nearly a year since graduating high school the prior summer, decided it was time to reevaluate his career path. After a few months of soul searching and a talk with his sister about possibilities, he enrolled in an agriculture program the following September.

Today, Humblet is an aquaponics coordinator for the Oneida Nation Farm to School Program, studying sustainable food and agriculture systems at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. Tattooed on the fingers of his left hand, are the symbols  “< = >” symbolizing the idea that “less is more” – a minimalist description that reflects his minimalist lifestyle.

Humblet was also a student leader for this summer’s Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit who became engaged with youth mentoring after his younger brother Nate attended the 2015 Indian Agriculture Youth Alliance at the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s annual meeting in Las Vegas. With a little convincing from Nate, Lucas decided to attend the #nativeyouthsummit in April at the Great Lakes Regional conference.

Humblet’s left hand

He heard about the summer summit while at the regional conference, and thought it sounded like something he’d be interested in. “So I applied and boom, they called me,” he said.

Humblet said his experience in Arkansas as a student leader was profound. “It was awesome, there was that sense of family there.” And with thoughts of being a teacher, he said the opportunity to have an impact on students only a few years younger than him was particularly meaningful. “Some of the youth, they look up to me, and I love that, I love the feeling, that I’m a part of something greater.”

Humblet is applying his education in sustainability and “less is more” philosophy to his work with the Oneida Nation Farm to School Program. He and his colleague Chris Brodhagen are setting up a greenhouse sized aquaponic operation to provide fresh fish and leafy green vegetables to the students of the Oneida School system.

Jesse Padron, director of food service for the program, said the aquaponic project is part of a larger food initiative by the Oneida Nation to improve the quality of food and nutritional education in the Oneida school district. And according to Padron, it’s working.

“The purpose of our program is to educate students at a young age about food sovereignty and sustainability, and why it’s important,” he said. “The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Humblet and Brodhagen hope to have the aquaponics system operational by early 2017.

Humblet agrees. He said it’s the efficiency and sustainability of aquaponics that draws him to the process, and he loves being able to help expand his tribe’s food systems and sovereignty through his work.

“At its core, aquaponics is a symbiotic, soilless growing system where fish waste feeds plants, and the plants purify the water cycling back for the fish,” he said. “In theory you could grow the [fish] food right there in the grow beds, and your only cost would be electricity and the initial inputs.”

If everything goes according to plan, Humblet said the operation should produce 800 to 1,200 heads of lettuce and around 900 lbs. of fish annually for the local community.

Humblet’s passion for “less is more” agriculture is apparent when he talks about the importance of small-scale, sustainable, independent food systems. He said he hopes to see a return to less centralized agriculture operations, where more food is grown and sourced locally, and communities like Oneida can feed their own people.

Humblet believes he is part of a movement among a growing number of Native American youth beginning to regain interest in the importance of agriculture and the important role of food systems in Native American communities.

“There’s a lot more youth that are interested in it (agriculture) than I actually expected,” he said. “I see that there is hope for the future, and that we have to be the ones to take the first steps, but once we take them who knows what will happen.”















USDA blog: Market news report aims to bring transparency and pricing information to Tribes

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According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there were 71,947 American Indian or Alaska Native farm operators in the United States in 2012, accounting for over $3.2 billion in market value of agricultural products sold.  Tribal Nations were identified as one group that is an underserved segment of agriculture, and USDA Market News is answering the call to provide them with the commodity data they need.    

USDA Market News – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – assists the agricultural supply chain in adapting their production and marketing strategies to meet changing consumer demands, marketing practices, and technologies.  USDA Market News reports give farmers, producers, and other agricultural businesses the information they need to evaluate market conditions, identify trends, make purchasing decisions, monitor price patterns, evaluate transportation equipment needs, and accurately assess movement. 

We are constantly evolving to meet the needs of industry and small producers.  Food sovereignty is a big focus of many Tribal Nations.  To help meet the needs of Tribal Nations and provide market transparency and pricing information, we developed the National Tribal Grown, Produced or Harvested report. 

This report provides transparent market data for traditional Tribal commodities.  Additionally, the report fills a significant traditional foods data gap.  The National Tribal Grown, Produced or Harvested report is just in its infancy and will evolve as more commodities are added.  Currently, there are two products included – wild rice from Minnesota and Wisconsin and maple syrup – on this quarterly report, but we hope to add additional traditional foods such as bison and honey in the future. 

We are continually working to expand both the contact base and list of commodities reported.  If you would like to contribute or assist in the endeavor, please reach out to us using the contact information on the current National Tribal Grown, Produced or Harvested report.

In addition to Market News data, AMS and the Food and Nutrition Service, work through USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) to procure and distribute nutritious, wholesome food to about 85,000 program recipients living on or near reservations across the United States.  Tribes work with us to help low-income families who may not have easy access to nutritious food for a number of reasons, including the fact that they live in remote areas with few grocery stores. 

USDA offers a variety of programs and services that are available to Tribal Governments, Tribal communities and organizations, and individual Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. The Office of Tribal Relations (OTR) is dedicated to ensuring that Tribes have relevant information on the programs and services available at USDA. For additional information, visit the Office of Tribal Relations website.