Domaphile has been vacationing on the Midwestern Riviera – otherwise known as Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. I hail from outside the Twin Cities and it’s always nice to visit in the summertime. This year, our trip corresponded with the grand opening of a new natural food store near my parents house. This wouldn’t normally be of any great note, but Mazopiya – which means “a place to store things” in the Dakota language - is much more than your local Whole Foods.
As part of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a Native American reservation outside the Twin Cities, Mazopiya provides more than just organic produce to the community. The project was initiated by Lori Watso, a tribal member and a nurse with a background in public health. After moving back to Minnesota from San Francisco, she wanted to find a way to address the chronic health issues that are facing her community. Diabetes and obesity rates are high and, on many reservations, access to healthy food is limited. They literally started from the ground up, by planting an organic community garden on 1 1/2 acres of reservation land in April of 2010 which has already grown to a 5 acre farm that provides 50 CSA shares to members (actually, they call it a TSA – Tribal Supported Agriculture) and sells produce at a small farmer’s market each week.
Construction on a 6,500 square foot, LEED-certified store followed that had a soft opening in early 2011 and an official grand opening this month. Stocking everything you would normally find at your local food-coop, the store also has an array of local, native products: wild rice, Lakota popcorn, and beauty products made from sage, cedar and buffalo tallow. The space is beautiful, like a well-curated and friendlier Whole Foods. It has a deli and coffee bar and really operates as a community space. Tribal members and people who work on the reservation receive discounts and there are also a variety of free classes offered on cooking and nutrition.
While the impetus for the project was to address Native American nutrition and health, anyone is welcome to shop at Mazopiya and take their classes, so the larger community benefits, too. This has all happened in a short time in part because the SMSC has ample financial resources from their successful casino operation. While many Native American reservations lack the capital of those that have profited from gaming, the hope is that the success of their operation will be able to be scaled and replicated elsewhere. I found the whole enterprise extremely inspiring and am curious how it could be used as a model for other communities. Does anyone know of similar projects going on in other places? Would love to find out more!