Hemp Tea, Wild Rice and Smoked Fish

Growing the Anishinaabe renaissance one CSA box at a time on Madeline Island in Lake Superior

Kip Dooley December 9, 2022

At Middle Road Farm on Madeline Island, Wis., Anishinaabe farmer Marty Curry is attempting something no one else on this Lake Superior island has done before, at least to his knowledge: wild rice and red currant cinnamon rolls.

It’s a bright Summer afternoon, and Curry is kneading dough on an outdoor counter made of salvaged marble from the Town of La Pointe recycling center. Beside him, Kyra Bingham of the Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute (AAI), a nonprofit based on the White Earth Reservation in northwest Minnesota, whisks fresh vegetables into a bowl of eggs for a quiche.

Anishinaabe is a cultural-linguistic group of Indigenous nations across the Great Lakes region and southern Canada that includes Ojibwe/Chippewa, Odawa and Potowatami. Curry, a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, is pulling double-duty today, hosting a group of Indigenous youth and leaders for a farm tour and lunch, in addition to pickups for The Anishinaabe CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In its first summer of operation, The Anishinaabe CSA is providing a dozen subscribers on the Island with boxes of fresh vegetables, hand-harvested teas, Lake Superior fish, and a range of meats and canned goods from both Native and non-Native producers.

The CSA is run by Curry, the Island’s sole Indigenous farmer, with help from a local paid administrator, a volunteer crew, and support and funding from AAI. Whereas in a typical CSA subscribers pay a single farmer at the start of a season in exchange for a regular share of the harvest, the Anishinaabe CSA combines goods from multiple sources to both lighten the load on individuals and build a strong network of like-minded producers.

Middle Road Farm on Madeline Island hosts The Anishinaabe CSA, which aims to strengthen relationships between Native peoples and Madeline Island. (Kip Dooley)

Throughout the afternoon, the subscribers—mostly white summer residents from the Twin Cities—will pick up their boxes and linger to chat with Curry’s crew and visitors. His Native guests have come from as far as White Earth, 300 miles to the west, and as close as the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation, which lies to the south of the Island along Chequamegon Bay and on Madeline includes a 17-acre “fishing ground” on the North End. “The CSA box is the hallmark that draws all these partners and allies into one space,” Curry says, sprinkling the wild rice and currants into the flattened dough.

The Island’s population, which swells from about 350 in the cold months to 2,500 in the summer, has been predominantly white since the mid-to-late 1800s, when Anishinaabe people were forced to leave their ancestral homeland due to increasingly hostile U.S. expansion, logging, mining and land grabs. An island that for centuries was a seasonal mecca of Indigenous trade and religious ceremonies has become known as a bucolic—and expensive—summer vacation destination.

Curry and AAI conceived of the CSA as a way to build income streams for Native producers, introduce more Island residents to the Island’s Anishinaabe heritage, and renew connections between Indigenous people and Madeline Island. As Curry and Bingham cook lunch, the visitors from White Earth and Bad River work in Curry’s one-acre plot, pulling weeds and learning about heritage strains of Native corn, beans and squash. The group slowly filters down to the cooking area as flavorful aromas waft from his brick wood-fired oven.

“Can I put this in the quiche?” Bingham asks Curry, holding up a misshapen zucchini.

“Do it!” Curry shouts, raising two flour-covered fists to the sky. “Make your food your art and your art your food.”

Kyra Bingham of the Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute and farmer Marty Curry make cinnamon rolls with Native-harvested wild rice, red currants, and Madeline Island honey and maple syrup. (Kip Dooley)

Bingham explains AAI’s wide-ranging projects on White Earth—including two horse-plowed plots and a hemp farm that, as part of an experimental trial with White Earth and the University of Minnesota, restores soil and produces renewable textile fibers—before sliding the quiche into the brick oven, wiping her brow and pointing over my shoulder. “And that right there is our fearless leader.”

I turn and see a sturdy, middle-aged woman in a wide-brimmed straw hat and long, white beaded earrings with seashells on the ends. Marty introduces me to Winona LaDuke, an author and activist who has campaigned to protect waterways and land from harmful gas and mining projects, and was Ralph Nader’s vice presidential running mate in 2000. She lifts her chin as if to inspect me. “Do you mind if I take pictures?” I ask.

“No,” she says after a pause. “I’m a farmer. A fellow farmer with Marty.”

LaDuke spots a few CSA members pulling in to collect their shares, and beckons me over to snap photos. “I’m your coffee roaster,” she tells them by way of introduction.

“Oh I know who you are,” replies Mike Caswell, a white summer resident. “And the coffee is very good.”

Farmer Winona LaDuke explains to Anishinaabe CSA subscribers Mike and Sandy Caswell methods of Anishinaabe farming. (Kip Dooley)

In Caswell and his wife Sandy’s box that day is Winona’s Breakfast Blend Coffee and Toasted Hemp Tea, purple potatoes from Curry, smoked lake trout from Red Cliff Fisheries, and assorted produce and eggs from non-Native Island farms.

Pointing to CSA Administrator Cedar Schimke, LaDuke says, “This our first time out and she’s rocking it!”

Schimke coordinates the procurement and distribution of goods each week, and writes an educational newsletter for CSA members, with the help of three volunteers. All four team members grow food or work on Island farms themselves, and have relied on their local network to fill the CSA boxes during a sparse growing season. Two days before the first pickup in late June, Curry texted Schimke that he barely had any produce from his fields due to the late spring, and neither did his neighbors. They considered postponing, but Schimke, who was driving back from Portland, Ore., decided to at least pick up wild rice and hemp tea from White Earth on her way home for storage. Meanwhile, her volunteers procured what vegetables they could from Island farmers, and by the time she returned the boxes were full “from a bunch of people who said they didn’t have anything—because none of them had a full box on their own,” she says with a chuckle.

Gilpin Matthews, owner and operator of Freak Farm and The Farmhouse restaurant, says the collaborative nature of The Anishinaabe CSA makes it a far easier market opportunity than harvesting produce to bring to farmer’s markets, or running his own CSA. “This takes a lot of the stress out because it’s a joint effort. Everyone can grow their strengths.”

Subscriber Sandy Caswell says that, given high grocery store prices, the cost of the ferry ($43 roundtrip with a car) and the drive to the closest natural foods co-op in Ashland, Wis., the $300 she and Mike paid for a summer half-share that included meat, fish and eggs ($60 per box) was well worth it.

Several members said trade with Indigenous communities was part of their reason for joining, and that they’ve since ordered additional dry goods from White Earth, like Winona’s Hemp Pasta. “There’s been so much abuse in the past, and it feels good to interact on a friend-to-friend level,” says Sandy Caswell. As a child, she fled Czechoslovakia with her family because of political persecution. “Being driven out of your own home and out of your own culture and your own beliefs. I can identify with that.”

Curry, who grew up in central Michigan and is of Saginaw Ojibwe and German descent, says he is driven to preserve and celebrate the region’s multicultural connections to the land. “There is an inherent tie to that freshwater heritage of lumbering, fishing, growing food, these economies that sustained the tribes here for millennia and European people here since their arrival 400, 500 years ago. There’s a lot of pride in it from so many different levels.”

Marty Curry in his one-acre plot of vegetables and hemp at Middle Road Farm on Madeline Island. (Kip Dooley)

“Fishing has a huge cultural impact for our people,” says Dan Grooms, business manager for Red Cliff Fish Company, which the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa opened in 2020. Red Cliff, Bad River and the State of Wisconsin have negotiated exclusive commercial fishing rights in Lake Superior as a way to protect a world-renowned and historically over-harvested natural resource.  Grooms says he happily offered The Anishinaabe CSA wholesale pricing on its whitefish, trout and fish dip even amid soaring demand from natural food co-ops and celebrated restaurants like Owamnie in Minneapolis. “Selling online gets us across the United States, but Madeline Island is kind of the epicenter for Ojibwe tribes.”

LaDuke says that the CSA is part of a larger effort to cultivate an ongoing “Anishinaabe renaissance” on Madeline Island. She and AAI “wanted to reintroduce this idea that our people grow food here, and we can feed people here.” Despite the Island’s clay-heavy soil and short growing season, she sees it as a potential “wellspring of agrobiodiversity,” because of its isolation from the contaminants of industrial agriculture and mainland pests like the potato bug.

LaDuke attributes much of her steadfast interest in agriculture during a wide-ranging career in politics, activism, publishing and community organizing to the influence of her stepfather, a “nice Norwegian guy” and agricultural researcher in southern Oregon. “I didn’t go to school for it, but I understand it. I feel destined to do it.”

After lunch and group photos, Curry and Bingham unveil their now-risen cinnamon roll dough. “I see wild rice…” ventures a youth leader from Bad River; Curry nods and points out the red currants, from a bush from the Red Lake Reservation in central Minnesota he transplanted here on his farm, and praises the rolls’ binding: Island-harvested honey and “Gould’s Gold,” maple syrup from nearby farmer John Gould. “This is all very experimental,” Bingham warns the gathering crowd. “We could put this in the oven and it could blow up,” Curry adds. “We’re still eating it either way!”

Kip Dooley

Kip Dooley is a writer and photographer of Irish, English, French and German settler heritage. His writing has appeared in The Wisconsin Idea, DCist, CityPages, US Lacrosse Magazine, and he is at work on a book with his mom, food writer Beth Dooley, for Milkweed Editions.

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