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The Potawot Community Food Garden

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

The Potawot Community Food Garden is situated next to the United Indian Health Services (UIHS) clinic, seeded in rolling hills and open green spaces of the unceded Wiyot land, known to some as Humboldt County, CA. The United Indian Health Services has been “caring for Native communities since 1970! [1]”

The history behind the name is that “Potawot is the Wiyot name for what is now called Mad River. This was a culturally and linguistically rich region, and the Wiyot and Yurok region are the farthest-southwest people whose language family is related to the Algonquian which is generally found east of the Rockies [2].”

The Potawot Community Food Garden operates a 100% organically with 4 greenhouses, two small wellness gardens, a large orchard and bees for pollination, and open fields for vegetable planting. They are run by Tee, Ed (Chumash Nation) and Jonny (Talowa Dee-ni’ Nation).

The garden is funded by the government as a health initiative to help fight diabetes in the community. They are connected to the neighboring clinic such that patients can access their food and produce for free as recommended by a doctor, although this type of interaction has decreased with Covid-19. The Potawot Community Food Garden provides various sizes of market shares, and holds its own market in the summer. They hold various workshops, as led by Tee and Ed for over a decade, including but not limited to mush-paddle making, stool carving, and cultural awareness workshops on topics like historical trauma, dances and ceremonies, traditional foods and gathering, and more.

At the onset of Covid-19, the bulk of the garden‘s volunteer crew diminished as many volunteers came through Humboldt State University. However, there are some loyal community members, namely Pam, Laura and Sonya, that have continued to support the workload at the garden. I was lucky to meet them and spend time working with them this week, talking about soil, the development of the Potawot garden through the years, and the role of the Potawot garden in the community.

The garden supports the community around Humboldt county whenever possible. For example, at the garden this year they had many extra plant starters, which they will be delivering to people in food-deserted areas that are more rural within the county. Another example is providing fresh produce for elder lunches or for delivery right to the houses of elders in the community.

The garden has been working their clayey soil for years, using gypsum for best results in achieving more loam-like textures. They embrace the use of cover crops for nitrogen fixing and other nutrient fixing properties. They spray with fish emulsion (remains of fish bodies) for fertilizer, as well as other fertilizers that are based on the needs of individual plants. While I was there, I also learned about using blood meal as a nitrogen fertilizer.

The garden spaces created and designed at the Potawot Community Food Garden are extremely therapeutic - from the sights and sounds of the local birds, to the sound of wind brushing through the blossoming trees, to the mirroring of the UIHS symbol in the wellness garden. The work done there is meaningful to support the vitality of the surrounding Native people and sure their legacy for time to come.

Ginger the cat, who oversees the garden.

Jonny watering in some snap peas, which are a community treasure. They will grow up along the trellis that we put up earlier that day. The bed to the left has some freshly planted beet seeds.

Thank you so much to John, Ed and Tee (left to right) for having us and teaching us so much throughout the week. We have so much gratitude for your kindness, generosity and good spirits.

You can find a video published by PBS that further delves into the UIHS and Potawot Community Food Garden’s role in addressing food sovereignty and holistic health in their community below:

More resources and citations:

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