Rosebud Schneider remembers so vividly the first time she saw Ziibimijwang Farm. She was taking an organic farming class at Michigan State University and headed up north for a meeting. Somebody suggested she check out Ziibimijwang Farm, owned by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, just a few miles from the Mackinac Straits. So she did.
A lifelong Detroiter accustomed to city streets, she instead found herself tracing the Emmet County two-lanes. At one point, she passed through a dense stretch of forest along Gill Road, and the farm suddenly, without notice, opened to the north. “I fell in love with that space,” she says. “That was a dream farm. That was my dream farm. But I didn’t think it was an attainable dream.” That first visit happened in 2017, and despite the doubts she felt that day, her dream came true: by 2019 she was a farm manager at Ziibimijwang Farm, which raises food not just for tribal members, but also for the community at large.
While the farm’s beauty stole her heart, there was something else about the operation that tightened the bond. Little Traverse Bay Bands created Ziibimijwang Farm in large part to help achieve food sovereignty and expand the use of traditional foods. “You can’t call yourself sovereign unless you grow your own food,” says Joe Van Alstine, a program specialist with the tribe’s Department of Human Services.
Food sovereignty is a thing that also pulses loudly in Rosebud. She grew up in a family that was active in the Native American community of Detroit, and sovereignty was a bedrock family value. Her dad hails from Shawnee and Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin and was active in the American Indian Movement. When he and Rosebud’s mom moved to Detroit, they quickly became strong community members there. “The American Indian Health and Family Services is a community and health center in Detroit, and we grew up in those walls,” Rosebud says.
When Rosebud began her career, she took a job at the health center and made food sovereignty a part of her work. She helped start a community garden at a park, a seed bank and a tool bank. She organized large community meals that served only Native American traditional foods.
2020 was the first year in which Rosebud was at the farm during planting, and she made traditional foods an important part of the mix. Sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes, sage, tobacco and sweet grass. And, of course, the farm planted corn, squash and beans—”the three sisters” of Native American culture. “Those are the three pillars that we lean on. The three together are a perfect protein. You will be okay if you just have those three,” she says.
Rosebud is still loving the journey she is on, building food sovereignty and promoting traditional Native American foods. “I wanted to be in a position to be a producer. I wanted to be the person folks could turn to and say, ‘I need corn. I need wild rice.’ And I still want to be that person,” she says.