Important Conversations From the Agricultural Outlook Forum

Colton recently attended the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia.  The 2024 Forum included speakers and topics spanning the agricultural industry, from climate-smart agriculture to Indigenous food practices to innovative farming practices and more. USDA is focused on creating a new model that allows agricultural producers of all sizes to thrive. This includes a focus on bolstering local and regional food systems. Colton shares with us about his experience at the Forum and his time in conversation with several key, indigenous leaders.


In early February, I (Colton Jones), was asked to speak on a panel at the 2024 Agricultural Outlook Forum | USDA. I was invited by a good friend and Wild Idea advocate, Heather Dawn Thompson. Thompson is the Director of the Office of Tribal Relations (OTR) for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). She is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, a Harvard Law School graduate, and an expert in American Indian law, tribal sovereignty, and rural tribal economic development. Most recently, she served as a member of the American Indian Law Practice Group at Greenberg Traurig, where she worked on federal Indian law and Tribal agriculture. Thompson has a long record of public service, beginning as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Department of Justice. Since then, she has served as a law clerk with the Attorney General’s Office for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, as Counsel and Policy Advisor to the United States Senate, and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for South Dakota’s Indian Country Section, where she prosecuted cases involving violence against women and children.

I was privileged to share the panel with two incredibly admirable individuals who are doing some amazing work.
Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson (Hopi) is the Assistant Specialist for the Indigenous Resiliency Center, University of Arizona. He holds a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Arizona, a Master of Public Policy from Pepperdine University, and a B.S. in Agriculture from Cornell University. Dr. Johnson is a faculty member and Assistance Specialist within the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. His primary work is with the Indigenous Resiliency Center. Michael is also a co-author on the Indigenous Chapter in the National Climate Assessment Five. His newest initiative is the call for the Restoration of the American Indian Food System based on the stewardship principles of Indigenous conservation. Most importantly, he continues to practice Hopi dry farming, a practice of his people for millennia.


Linda Black Elk is Director of Education for the North American Traditional Indigenous Food¬†Systems. She is an ethnobotanist and food sovereignty activist specializing in teaching about¬†culturally important plants and their uses as food and medicine. She is eternally grateful for the¬†intergenerational knowledge of elders and other knowledge holders, who have shared their¬†understandings of the world with her, and she has dedicated her life to giving back to these¬†peoples and their communities.¬†Linda and her family have also been spearheading a grassroots effort to provide organic,¬†traditional, shelf stable food and traditional Indigenous medicines to elders and others in need.¬†She has written numerous articles, book chapters, and papers, and is the author of ‚ÄúWatoto¬†Unyutapi‚ÄĚ, a field guide to edible wild plants of the Dakota people.¬†When she isn‚Äôt teaching,
Linda spends her time foraging, hiking, hunting, and fishing on the prairies and waters of the northern Great Plains with her husband and three sons, who are all members of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota. The discussion revolved around correlations between regenerative agriculture, indigenous knowledge and tackling climate change.

Much like Wild Idea’s mission, these things play a role in what Dr. Johnson and Linda are focusing on in their respective fields. I was given the opportunity to share how indigenous knowledge and regenerative agriculture have influenced the evolution of Wild Idea Buffalo Co’s business model over time. We discussed the reciprocity that Native American people show not just to their relative the buffalo, but all other resources that sustain them. Respecting resources is also what Wild Idea’s business model revolves around. This was the first time in the history of the USDA ag outlook forum that the Office of Tribal Relations made the agenda! After this years’ experience and the positive feedback I heard, I have confidence it will make next year’s agenda as well!

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