New funding will allow the Chickahominy Indian Tribe to reduce food waste and keep their waterways cleaner. Photo: Virginia DWR

Va. Tribes Get EPA Funding for Community Compost, River Runoff Reduction

Three of Virginia’s federally recognized Indian tribes will get environmental funding to improve river health, launch tribal composting programs, and give members better access to local produce.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded grants to the Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, and Upper Mattaponi tribes to support diversion of food and other organic waste to composting programs instead of landfills. The grants will also help build the tribes’ access to locally grown foods and incorporate community engagement and educational initiatives. Each of the programs will also improve soils and thus reduce runoff pollution to the tribe’s home rivers.

“We are very excited to work with our tribal partners in their efforts to sustainably manage food waste,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz. “Highlights of these projects include the development of community gardens that will yield fresh produce as well as opportunities to increase the communities’ awareness and implementation of food preservation practices.” 

The Chickahominy Indian Tribe’s $25,000 project will include a community compost program operating alongside three themed community gardens near its Tribal Center in Charles City, VA. 

“In the past, many of our families cultivated, gathered and ate a wide variety of foods including wild meats like venison and fish and a variety of fruits and vegetables,” said Tribal Environmental Director Dana Adkins. “Since those days, we have seen an increase in the consumption of fast food and in diseases such as diabetes. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the burden on our families of acquiring affordable fresh vegetables and fruits. This grant gives us the opportunity to educate our youth in the practices of food production, preparation and preservation methods that our elders once practiced.”

The three Chickahominy gardens will focus on produce for sale or home use, traditional Powhatan farming techniques, and cultivation of culturally important materials. The program will encourage tribal members of all ages to participate together, increasing access to locally produced foods by sharing both new gardening techniques and traditional ones, including canning to prevent food waste. 

The Chickahominy Indian Tribe Eastern Division’s proposed $15,959 garden and composting site will help tribal citizens grow fresh produce, create new composting capacity for enhancement of the garden’s soil, and share cultural knowledge about traditional foods and healthy eating. Their garden will feature a greenhouse to extend their growing season into colder months.  “Uncertain times have left many indigenous families in a position of food insecurity. Developing a sustainable materials management program through a community garden for the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division will increase food availability to tribal citizens,” said Jessica Phillips, Tribal Environmental Director. “It will also allow citizens to learn cultural and long-term knowledge regarding food waste, food production, and healthy eating.”

Like the two Chickahominy tribes, the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe will use its $25,000 EPA grant to build a composting program and establish a tribal community garden. The composting program will process materials from the Tribal Center, five King William County Schools, and a local florist, while engaging community members with educational outreach. “We look forward to the opportunity of working with our Native community and business partners in removing food and organic waste from our landfills,” said Upper Mattaponi Assistant Chief Tommy Tupponce. “This community will be enriched by creating a more sustainable alternative for this waste through composting and supporting local food access through a tribal community garden.” 

The Chickahominy and Upper Mattaponi tribes’ composting and gardening will help improve soil around the rivers that bear the tribes’ names, both of which flow into the Bay.

-John Page Williams