Statewide Health Improvement Programs (SHIP) Coordinator, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
When Amanda Shongo was young, she didn’t always know where her next meal would come from. Even when her family did have food to eat, there was never enough.
“My passion for food access, sustainable food systems, and food sovereignty stems from my personal history growing up in extreme poverty,” Amanda told us. “As a child, I remember my family getting our food out of dumpsters, and how we sifted the bugs from wilted boxes of Rice-A-Roni, or tore the mold from expired bread. I also remember waiting in line at the local food shelf for meager portions, and eating abandoned USDA commodities like rice, cereal, evaporated milk, and powdered eggs.”
Now as an adult, Amanda has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people who suffer from similar circumstances that she once faced. As the Statewide Health Improvement Programs (SHIP) Coordinator for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Amanda helps make it easier for those in her community to incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily lives.
“My work entails implementing strategies that strive to prevent obesity for all ages,” Amanda explained. “Those strategies involve increasing people’s access to healthy eating and physical activity, both in the workplace, in the community, in schools, and at home. I attempt to accomplish this feat by working to create change or improving upon our environment, the systems we use, and through policy work.”
Community Gardens = Community Engagement
One strategy that Amanda is most proud of is SHIP’s community gardens. While she says they can be challenging to run at times, the outcome is worth the sometimes stressful nature of community engagement. “Seeing people come together and get excited over a garden and growing their own food is such a reward,” Amanda exclaimed. “People literally use their hands to access food by growing it from scratch. At the same time, community gardening helps with physical activity, better mental and physical health, and even greater spiritual fulfillment.”
Another benefit, and perhaps the most important: growing food works directly with many traditional Anishinaabe ways. “It’s a subject that I’m passionate about. This connection to food and to the Earth ignites my community’s desire to revitalize its cultural traditions,” Amanda added.
Paying it Forward
Ever since Amanda started in food access work, she says she has become even more active, working on myriad food issues. She says sustainable food systems and food sovereignty are always top of mind, as she firmly believes that all people have the right to healthy and safe food.
“I believe that teaching people how to grow and gather their own food can really change people’s lives while also creating healthy, affordable, and accessible food systems,” Amanda said. “No one in the United States should suffer from being hungry. For me, being able to work on issues of food access is a way to give back while also paying it forward and making things better for everyone.”