BROWNING, MONTANA — The Blackfeet Nation (Amskapi Piikani) in Montana is home to one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower forty-eight states. Yet, despite their rich agricultural diversity, the Piikani people suffer from diet-related health disparities and persistent poverty. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded its 100 grant to Montana State University and the Blackfeet Nation to develop best practices in natural resource management, climate adaptation and water governance that are consistent with the Amskapi Piikani cultural values. Montana State University, along with the Blackfeet Nation and other Blackfeet Nation partners, have provided matching funds for a total project investment of $2 million.
The Blackfeet Nation’s primary industry is agriculture, with reservation lands supporting about 500,000 acres of grain and forage production, and over 1,000,000 acres of grazing lands for cattle, sheep and horses. With an abundance of rich natural resources at their disposal, the Piikani people can sustainably produce, distribute and consume food grown on their lands.
From 2016 to 2019, a coalition of Piikani representatives partnered with stakeholders from federal and state agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations, as well as the community and local agriculture producers to develop the Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP), which outlines a strategy for sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty and natural climate solutions. The tribe realized that achieving the objectives of the plan required innovative research and technology to enable widespread adoption.
FFAR’s grant allows Piikani and Montana State University researchers to achieve three key objectives:
- Understanding the socio-economic cost of various management decisions to help Piikani farmers and ranchers make choices that reduce costs, protect the environment and increase local food access and affordability;
- Investigating various regional food systems to establish research priorities that sustainably nourish the Piikani people; and
- Identifying how traditional Indigenous foods and foodways influence Piikani health.
“The funds that we have been granted from FFAR will help underwrite and support the Tribes efforts in implementing the community developed objectives for the Tribe’s ARMP,” said Loren BirdRattler, the Project Manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s ARMP. “It will also position the Tribe to attain our own USDA Agriculture Research Station, which would be the first in Indian Country in the United States. FFAR’s generous support, along with the support of our partners, including Montana State University provides ongoing opportunities for Blackfeet researchers to lead the way in implementing the research requirements that have been prioritized and defined under the ARMP.”
This research has the potential to improve the Piikani people’s socioeconomic, health, agricultural, environmental and governance systems. The Piikani people will use this research to govern and manage their resources; form partnerships with outside organizations; and produce environmentally sustainable, nutritious food for themselves, and eventually for others.
At its core, this research and the ARMP supports the Blackfeet Nation’s “triple bottom line,” which seeks to narrow health disparities, bolster sustainable economic development and support young producers and farmers. This research directly aligns with FFAR’s core objectives to develop strategic public-private partnerships, fund innovative research and support the agriculture industry’s next generation.
“FFAR is thrilled to be part of the Blackfeet Nation’s efforts to improve health, promote economic development and invest in future farmers and ranchers,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “This grant is especially significant not only because it highlights FFAR’s core objectives, but also because it marks FFAR’s 100 grant. FFAR was established in 2014, awarded the first grant in 2016 and is now celebrating our 100 grant in 2019. FFAR’s unique funding model and innovative research touches people around the globe.”
FFAR’s Seeding Solutions grant program is an open call for bold ideas that address pressing food and agriculture issues in one of the Foundation’s Challenge Areas. This research supports FFAR’s Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area, which aims to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the United States and around the globe.
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.
Cover photo: Blackfeet agriculture production. (Photo by Joseph Pecora (jpecoraphotography.com), photo courtesy of the Blackfeet Tribe.)