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Vt. farm shares bison with Abenaki to help fight food insecurity

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 2:43 PM EST
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SHOREHAM, Vt. (WCAX) - A Native American tribe is trying to prevent its own food insecurity. The Nulgehan Abenaki Tribe has partnered with a farm owner in Shoreham to help raise bison and provide meals for Abenaki citizens in Vermont.

“In the peak of the pandemic it seemed like a good idea to share the animals,” Bill Heminway said.

Bill and Lissy Heminway took over the Wiley Side Farm in Shoreham over the summer and inherited the bison that came with it.

“We really started to get to know the bison for the first time and we realized how different they were to us than raising beef,” Bill Heminway said.

The two are cattle farmers and wanted to figure out a way to share their wealth of bison.

“They’re a wild animal. They have a wild spirit, and many native people connect to bison,” said Don Stevens, the chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe.

So the Heminways reached out to Chief Stevens to take ownership of 24 of their 32 bison and help feed those in need.

Stevens says providing the Abenaki citizens with a healthy food option-- for free-- is huge.

“We have one of the highest health disparities in the state, so any time I can feed people nutritious food to reduce the health disparity, we do what we can,” Stevens said.

While the partnership is in its early stages, Stevens says they’ve already started to feed the Abenaki citizens.

Once a bison is taken to slaughter, it is processed by a butcher, kept frozen and distributed for free at one of the three Abenaki food shelves throughout the state.

“If we can provide that food, people can use that money for heat and medicine and use the money for other expenses,” Stevens said.

So how many meals does one bison provide for the 1,500 Abenaki citizens? Stevens says roughly 800 pounds of meat is good to eat from a single bison, which means that’s at least 800 meals for the Abenaki people.

“In terms of neighbor helping neighbor, it seems to be pretty worthwhile,” Heminway said.

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