By Cheryl Kennedy
Mountain Plains Regional Administrator, USDA Food and Nutrition Service
It was a sunny fall day in mid-October when I had the honor of visiting the Omaha Nation WIC program. Upon meeting WIC Director Jessika Free-Bass, I visited the Tribe's WIC garden, which they use to grow produce for client nutrition education. For the Omaha Tribe, nutrition education is a community effort.
Free-Bass says that the Omaha Nation WIC program recognizes the importance of incorporating Indigenous foods and traditional cooking practices into the WIC experience to form a holistic approach to nutrition education. Recently, they have taken extra steps to spotlight foods indigenous to their community, as well as dishes and cooking methods traditionally used by the Umóⁿhoⁿ people.
This year, the WIC garden grew tomatoes and WIC clients prepared tomato sauce. The garden also produced carrots, which the program used to teach ways to prepare baby food. The WIC garden is small, so the program partners closely with several community organizations to further its nutrition education efforts. For example, the nearby Umóⁿhoⁿ school garden donates squash and indigenous corn to the program for lessons.
Omaha WIC also partners with the Nebraska Indian Community College, using their kitchen facilities to provide nutrition education sessions and cooking demonstrations.
The WIC program aims to safeguard the health of income eligible women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk by providing nutritious foods and information on healthy eating. As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, I applaud the Omaha Nation for connecting mothers, young children, and the community in celebrating healthy, traditional food. It was a pleasure to see their efforts, and I take great pride in the role the WIC program plays in bringing greater health equity to people in our country.