Spotlight On: Big Pine Farmer’s Market

SPOTLIGHT ON: Big Pine Farmer’s Market

Every Friday evening, you can find a wide array of sellers and their goods at the Big Pine Farmer’s Market at the South end of town.  This week, we decided to reach out to the person running it (with a little help from his friends), Milo Vella.

Big Pine Farmer’s Market Dancer
Photo by Milo Vella

Hi Milo, Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in Big PIne? 

My circuitous path to Big Pine, from San Francisco, where I was born and raised, must have begun at the end of 8th grade, when a teacher recommended I read a book called Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. About the same time I also had some formative visits to the so-called Ventana Wilderness (hint: it’s a very culturally-modified landscape) and the visionary Pie Ranch, fostering social- and ecological justice in the food system. These and other fortunate influences got me interested in the breadth of possible ways of finding regenerative relationships with the places and ecologies in which we live.

When I first came out to visit Deep Springs College in the Spring of 2019, I was a student at Cornell, which is on Haudenosaunee — and specifically Gayohgohono or ‘Cayuga’ — homelands. A friend who is Akwesasne Mohawk and I had been doing a project of mapping all the amazing programs happening throughout the Haudenosaunee territories to build and exercise ‘food sovereignty’: “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

So I researched whose lands I’d be visiting and looked for similar programs, and found info about Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program. I made a day to visit and it really impressed me. I promised myself to volunteer and collaborate as much as I could if I went to Deep Springs.

With Deep Springs’s “isolation ground rule” — and then the pandemic — it proved more difficult to collaborate with local food sovereignty programs than I’d hoped. But I began learning about the incredible history of land and water theft here, as well as the unique heritage of Indigenous irrigation by Nüümü (Owens Valley Paiute) people.

By the time I returned to Cornell, Bishop Food Sovereignty had connected me with the late Monty Bengochia, who served as the Chairman of the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission and Historic Preservation Officer for the Bishop Paiute Tribe, among other important roles in his community. With the the opportunity to carry out an Honors Thesis project I worked with him, and the Water Commission staff to formulate a research approach that might serve their priorities and make use of my interest in volunteering. For that they connected me with the Bishop Indian Head Start children’s garden, Tutuapi’ Anadünagüna, as well as the Big Pine Paiute Tribal Demonstration Garden, which was without a manager at the time. With the support of the Big Pine Paiute Tribal Council and some funding from Cornell I worked to host a week of volunteer workdays in the spring, and returned in the summer for more engaged learning. This spring, that volunteering turned into the job I hold now!

Drummers Circle at the Big Pine Farmer’s Market
Photo by Milo Vella

What inspired you/how did you end up hosting the farmer’s market?

Well, stepping into the role of Garden Manager for the Big Pine Tribe, I had no choice but get the Nawanaki-Ti Farmers Market up and running! I’m glad to oblige (a friend and I had dreamed up starting one in High School) but this one wasn’t my idea in the first place. Rather, it has been a proud tradition since the garden program’s inception in the early 2010s, and has been run, in the last couple of seasons, by dedicated volunteers. So for me it was just a matter of learning the ropes, building relationships, and setting it up for another season.

The inspiration behind the market is clearly stated by my predecessors in a governing document: The vision of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe’s Nawanaki-Ti Market is to create a sustainable market for locally grown produce, crafts, artisanal products, health products and prepared foods for the community. The Nawanaki-Ti Market also wishes to create an awareness of right to know and healthy dietary lifestyle and the means to obtain the foods to facilitate such lifestyle. Lastly, the Nawanaki-Ti Market desires to provide a weekly summer community gathering event that promotes community togetherness and social interaction.

I feel honored to support that vision. I like how the market generates income for our local vendors, and brings weekly excitement to our small town community. For me it’s especially pleasing to welcome the public regularly to the garden.

Big Pine Farmer’s Market
Photo by Milo Vella

What types of products and produce can people find at the farmer’s market?

Every week it’s a different array of vendors, but it always runs the gamut: there’s always fresh, local produce and eggs, prepared foods including baked goods, refreshments, and dinner, and a rich assortment of crafts— flintknapping, beadwork, basketry, knitted wear, artwork, all-occasion customizable gift baskets, textiles, and more.

Follow the Nawanaki-Ti Facebook page — or, even better — swing by on a Friday evening between 5 and dusk (through Oct 27th) to check out the scene!

Big Pine Farmer’s Market, table of veggies.
Photo by Milo Vella

Are there any activities for kids?

Yes, there is plenty of entertainment for kids! We always have a bouncy castle, treats of many kinds, a family-friendly atmosphere, and sometimes other events like a slip-n-slide or hands-on workshops.

Even better, we also have several kids who like to come to the farmers market as vendors: Damon Lee is always there with his lemonade, which folks endearingly call “Damonade.” Recently we’ve also had JT Burtt selling backyard eggs, Joseph Sepsey with his “Poppin’ Popcorn,” “Marley Moo” with her refreshing watermelon cucumber lemonade, and a kiddo named Matthias selling cupcakes. Often they do quite well! I’m working with the Big Pine Indian Education Center to encourage more children to start little enterprises involving produce from the garden, too.

Big Pine Farmer’s Market dancers
Photo by Milo Vella

Check out the Big Pine Farmer’s Market every Friday from 5pm until dusk.

And a special thank you to Milo Vella for the information and opportunity to interview him!

Catch up on “Spotlight On” here.

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