Horses roam at the Darr College of Agriculture

Darr College of Agriculture is partnered with the Quapaw Nation, whose goal is to promote food sovereignty and security.

Missouri State University Darr College of Agriculture has partnered with the Quapaw Native Americans to reach educational, business and sustainability goals, and the two plan on continuing to expand their relationship. 

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” said Ronald Del Vecchio, dean of the college of agriculture. 

According to a press release from the university, the Quapaw, headquartered in northeastern Oklahoma, work under two main agricultural goals: food sovereignty and food security. William Meadows, MSU’s coordinator for Native American studies, said these goals are reminiscent of goals most Native American tribes work towards.

“For native people, with being placed on reservations, there was that very long period when they were under government control on the issue of food, and there’s a little bit of that even today,” Meadows said. 

According to the United States Census Bureau, the national poverty rate was 14% in 2016. In that same year, 26.2% of single-race Native Americans and Alaska Native people were in poverty, the highest poverty rate of any race group.

 “There are some people who are very comfortable and secure, and there are people below the poverty line in native communities,” Meadows said. “This would be a way this tribe is saying, ‘We want to become self-sufficient in food production and distribution and not have to rely on the government. We don’t have to be in a precarious position.’”

Del Vecchio said the Quapaw have been active in agricultural practices and in wanting to be self-sustaining in food production. The Quapaw have invested money into establishing facilities such as a livestock processing plant, greenhouses and a facility for importing and grinding their own coffee in order to maintain their goals of food sovereignty and food security.

Del Vecchio said some in the department have visited the Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma to participate in college fairs and recruit in hopes that students from the Quapaw Nation can expand this relationship by enrolling at MSU in programs such as plant science, animal science or agricultural business.

“Our objective is we want to start seeing students from the Quapaw nation coming to Missouri State to study agriculture then go back to the nation and apply those techniques, experiences to obtain their goal and continue to maintain their goal of food sovereignty,” Del Vecchio said.

The Darr College of Agriculture is looking to resurrect marketing Missouri State beef to sell at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. The Quapaw nation would help by processing MSU cattle. Del Vecchio said the next group of animals ready for processing will be transported to the Quapaw Nation’s livestock processing facility, which is the first USDA-inspected processing plant located on tribal territory that a tribe owns and operates, according to the press release.

Part of being sustainable means using the products produced by MSU agriculture students, not just throwing them out. 

“When you look at local food production and at some of these urban gardens, a lot of the objective is to be sustainable,” Del Vecchio said. “I think the Quapaw Nation having that objective, it’s a sense of security, it’s a sense of knowing we can take care of ourselves, and we can be secure in producing and having food for the people of our tribe. It’s a very admirable goal, and I commend them for that.”

Del Vecchio said he has a personal interest in this partnership because his wife is a quarter Native American, making his two sons an eighth Cherokee. He said he would be interested in collaborating with any other Native American nations if an opportunity arises.

“If you think back on history, you kind of shake your head a little bit,” Del Vecchio said. “Talk about being dealt a bad hand. 

“Now, to see evidence of the Native American population stepping up and saying ‘We’re coming back, and we’re finding ways to be self-sustaining. We don’t need you to hold our hand. We don’t need you to take care of us, hats off.”