Native American Contributions to the Modern Food Industry

Native American tribal communities have played a major role in cultivating the food industry in the United States as we know it. They were the first caretakers of the land. Those early Native Americans learned that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. They were the original sustainable farmers and environmentalists in America. Native American tribal farmers provided ideas for sustainable food practices in the beginning, and they still have provide input to US agricultral systems today.


Some of the earliest growers of local food in the Northern California Capay Valley were the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. Yocha Dehe tribe continues to grow and cultivate hundreds of acres of farmland in the valley. Many of the acres are certified organic, and others are in permanent conservation easements. The Yocha Dehe tribe utilizes sustainable farming practices that include crop rotation, pest control, cover crops, and drip irrigation methods.

While obesity and food insecurity plague many tribal communities,  members are starting to tackle these concerns head on by preserving tribal food traditions and incorporating interesting concepts to sustain the land, farming practices, and community.

The Yocha Dehe tribal farmers are making a big impact on olive oil production in California. The Yocha Dehe community realizes that their soil is well-suited for the growth of olives in the valley. The Yocha Dehe’s newest food venture is the creation of the tribe’s unique brand of olive oil, Séka Hills olive oil.

The climate and soil in the valley are often described as Mediterranean, in which olives can thrive. To create the best groves, the Yocha Dehe farmers utilize an innovative method, called super high-density planting. This method uses up to 700 trees per acre instead of the normal 100 trees per acre on traditional olive orchards.

The Séka Hills olive production is creating an impact in olive production and promoting economic development and success for the people of the Capay Valley community.  

South Dakota

The Oglala Lakota Nation  is making contributions to the food industry in the South Dakota plains through buffalo meat. With a decline in buffalo populations in recent years, the Oglala Lakota Nation is trying to make their comeback by raising large herds of buffalo on tribal lands.

The buffalo meat is used in health foods to promote better health for the tribal community and consumers across the country. The Oglala Lakota Nation has created the Tanka Bar, a unique energy bar that utilizes cranberries and buffalo meat. Buffalo meat is considered healthy because it is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. The Tanka Bars are sold in major retail stores, such as Costco. One of the major purposes of the Tanka Bar is to combat obesity and diabetes common on the reservations.

Native American food companies are making a significant contribution to the food system in the US today. We can learn much from their expertise and knowledge in creating new foods while persevering the land and environment we all enjoy.