When FAST Blackfeet (Food Access and Sustainability Team) got together in September of 2015, it involved a group of community leaders, health professionals, educators and involved citizens on the Blackfeet Reservation dedicated to identifying areas of food insecurity in the communities and exploring solutions, as well as addressing food sovereignty to ensure access to culturally relevant and affordable foods for all.
Initially, their goals were to increase awareness and educate people about healthy eating on limited resources, as well as supporting food banks. But the events of last winter expanded that list.
“We collaborate with existing groups and add to what they do,” explained Nonie Woolf, board member of FAST Blackfeet. “That’s our way of doing things; we work with established groups.”
That approach enabled them to assist with relief efforts aimed at folks stranded in Heart Butte. “We got money through our Facebook page, and the response was overwhelming,” Woolf said. Her group worked with both Roy Crawford of the Blackfeet Food Distribution Program and Pastor Calvin Hill of the Browning United Methodist Church in distributing donated food and firewood, including fresh produce supplied with funding from Abbi Fitzpatrick, matched by FAST Blackfeet.
“People don’t prepare for emergency food situations, and it used to be different,” Woolf said. “So we want to teach people how to make basic foods, growing and canning. Especially with last winter’s warning, it’s why self-sufficiency needs to come back.”
Surveys conducted by FAST Blackfeet have shown the Reservation population divided into thirds when it comes to being “food secure.” About a third surveyed are “hungry” while another third are “food insecure,” and the remaining numbers are without problems. Although response from the Reservation communities was uneven, the survey found the greatest food insecurity in Browning and Heart Butte.
The group is now working to land a grant to create a business plan they can use to build a facility that will include a food pantry, a commercial kitchen, a restaurant and a meeting room. Future plans include a community garden as well.
In terms of food sovereignty, FAST Blackfeet is teaming up with Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP) Program Manager Loren Bird Rattler to bring back traditional foods.
FAST Blackfeet has around 70 members presently and is always looking for others who would like to join in their efforts. They meet every fourth Friday of the month in the Blackfeet Tribal Conference Room from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The public is invited to come to the meetings, and to visit their Facebook page or their website at www.fastblack feet.org for more information. To contact them, email FASTBlackfeet@ gmail.com.