Running Strong for American Indian Youth® 2023 Dreamstarter Noah Proctor, 22, (Piscataway Conoy), of Clinton, Maryland, has a dream to establish a community garden to address “hunger in the tribal community while educating youth about agriculture, ecology, and nutrition, with an emphasis on Native knowledge and modern green agriculture.”
With his mentor organization, “Through Piscataway Eyes” he plans to develop an integrative farming complex using greenhouses, hydroponics, and other technology to grow and harvest fruits and vegetables year-round.
The fresh produce will be provided to elders on fixed incomes and other community members experiencing hunger.
“Through hands-on farming and food preparation activities, children and teens will learn about Piscataway history, farming methods, and food,” said Noah.
“They will be empowered to become the next generation of agriculturalists promoting conservation, food sovereignty, and respect for Mother Earth.”
With his $20,000 Dreamstarter grant, his overarching goals “are to reestablish the tribe’s community garden and expand it into an institution that promotes health, cultural awareness, and environmental justice in the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.
Noah will meet his goals through:
– Planting fruits and vegetables in the community garden that will be distributed to elders and families in need;
– Offering nutrition classes educating about traditional foods, which are healthful, delicious, and easy to prepare, as a way to address obesity and chronic disease in the community;
– Agricultural training to enable tribal members to enter the field of agriculture and work towards food sovereignty, and;
– Youth activities that bring young people closer to their history and educate them about how to take care of Mother Earth.
“I volunteered at the community garden when it was previously open and know that there are over a hundred tribal members who would be willing to pitch in to make our community garden a reality again,” said Noah. “We will consider this grant project a success if our community garden is fully operational by June 2024.”
The Piscataway Conoy Tribe has about 3,500 enrolled members throughout Maryland, northern Virginia and Washington, DC, however there are about 35,000 more Piscataway who are not currently enrolled.
“We were one of the first tribes of contact with the Europeans in the early seventeenth century,” he told us. “The English broke their treaties with us and we were eventually scattered, living in small villages away from white settlements, where our tribe continued to keep many of our cultural traditions alive.
“When I was growing up, many people outside of the tribe believed that they Piscataway Conoy Tribe didn’t exist, that we had died out centuries ago.”
Noah says the tribe’s greatest achievement has been receiving Maryland state recognition by then-Gov. O’Malley in 2012.
“I’m proud to say that I participated in the recognition ceremony as a drummer for my tribe. Since then, I noticed that people in my hometown and state respect Native culture more and seem more interested in learning about us.”
“Last year, when we rallied to change the offensive name of Indian Head Highway to Piscataway Highway, we had broad support among non-Natives.
Noah says his personal dream is to graduate college and continue to give back to his community by sharing what he’s learned. “My dream is for my community to get out of poverty. There is a lot of poverty in my tribe (approximately 28 percent live at or below the poverty level).”
Noah says establishing a community garden is a way to help them to do just that.
“Educating other young people about gardening, agriculture, and ecology is part of how we’ll overcome poverty because they’ll grow up understanding how we need to take care of our land so that it doesn’t get depleted and will continue giving us life.
“The community garden is needed in my community because many of us live in poverty and/or food deserts and don’t have access to fresh produce. We have high rates of diabetes, hypertension, and other diseases because many of us eat modern Western diets.”
The Piscataway Conoy tribe recently acquired land for the first time in 400 years, and Noah and his mentor, Chief Jesse Swann, leader of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe and founder of Through Piscataway Eyes, are committed to teaching ancestral farming practices and modern green agricultural practices to conserve that land.
“Environmental Justice projects that focus on indigenous know-how are needed within the Piscataway Conoy Tribe because they will help us break free from dependence on non-Native, exploitative, unhealthful ways and build a better future for ourselves.”