Portrait of Michelle Week. Photo credit: Kari Rowe
Michelle Week (Sinixt) is an honored recipient of the 2022 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Awards (ILAs) for her ongoing work at x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm which is dedicated to redistributing wealth, promoting economic empowerment, and increasing access to First Foods for Indigenous communities and communities of color residing within and around the Portland metro area.
As the owner and head farmer of x̌ast sq̓it which translates to Good Rain Farm in the Sinixt language, Michelle is constantly striving towards the goals of food sovereignty, empowerment, concern for the community, and honorable stewardship of the land. Through seed saving, seed sharing, crop planting choices, and continued dedication to educating the public about First Foods, Michelle has broadened community support and interest in protecting Indigenous culture through a food sovereignty lens. She has brought to life a robust hub at Good Rain Farm that values community over profit.
Growing up, Michelle developed a love and appreciation for the outdoors and gardening at a young age. Her grandparents grew vast gardens where as a kid, she helped to snap the suckers off of tomato plants and harvested vegetables like rhubarb. She was born in Seattle, Wash., but grew up spending time living in cities along the I-5 corridor, such as Eugene, Albany, and Portland, Ore. Despite bouncing around a couple times growing up, Michelle and her family still managed to plant a garden almost everywhere they lived.
Balsamroot flowers in bloom Rowena Crest, Oregon. Photo credit: Bonnie Moreland
She attended the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in cultural ecology. After college, Michelle settled down in Portland, Ore., and quickly noticed that most of the community gardens in Portland had extensive waitlists. Despite having to make a longer drive north of the city, Michelle started gardening on her mother’s property near Camas, Wash. At first it was only Michelle and a close friend taking care of the garden. Then as they became more active on social media sharing their experience of growing Indigenous plants, a local restaurant became interested in buying their produce, and demand started to increase. Shortly after, the large garden they had started had turned into a farm.
Now, x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm primarily operates as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm which provides an annual summer’s length box of fresh produce to CSA members. Each week Michelle and her employees harvest the week’s worth of fresh produce for the CSA box. The fresh boxes of produce are then delivered within two days of harvest to members all around the Portland metro area.
While growing up, Michelle knew she was Native, but her Native identity was complicated. As a result of the ongoing impacts of settler colonialism, which forced some of Michelle’s family members to attend boarding school and relocate from their tribal reservation, Michelle describes the relationship to her tribal identity growing up as one filled with grief and distance. She said, “A lot of growing up was me being told you’re Native, but don’t tell anyone, and I think that that comes from a fear of racism that my grandmother still exhibits to this day.”
As time went on and Michelle started to develop more interest, and started x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm which focused on First Foods and the traditional foods of other Indigenous communities, she started to see opportunities to not only heal her personal relationship to her Native identity but also her family’s relationship. She said, “I found that my work on the farm, on x̌ast sq̓it, has also helped [family] open up a little bit more and see that pride and interest of owning our identity and taking it back.”
Michelle Week at x̌ast sq̓it which translates to Good Rain Farm in the Sinixt language. Photo credit: Kari Rowe
When expanding x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm, Michelle wanted to develop a way to increase food access to individuals who are either food insecure or have reduced access and complicated barriers to food. To do so, x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm established a variety of methods to reduce barriers such as rallying community to utilize a sliding skill pricing for purchases, accepting SNAP benefit for CSA boxes, and offering multiple pricing pathways for CSA memberships.
For Michelle, one of her main goals when establishing x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm was to be able to give away 50 percent of the food grown at no cost to the end user. Last year and in 2022, x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm was able to reach that milestone and give more than 50 percent food away while still bringing in money to support the production and employees at x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm.
“Small farms are definitely undervalued, undercapitalized and not dignified or valued in their work,” Michelle said. “So I feel really proud that we’re able to continue to do this work and operate not with a capitalist mindset of profit over people [but rather] we’re putting people over profit and doing the reverse and supporting them.”
When asked about continuing her work at x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm Michelle said, “So often people tell us that what we’re doing is impossible. People said, ‘There’s no way you can give away 50 percent of your food free of charge,’ but we did it. So what’s the next impossible thing that I can tackle and do?”
Ecotrust is proud to recognize Michelle Week with a 2022 Indigenous Leadership Award for her many achievements.
About the Indigenous Leadership Awards
The Indigenous Leadership Awards is a celebration of the determination, wisdom, and continuum of Indigenous leadership across our region. Since its founding in 2001, 56 exceptional Indigenous leaders have been recognized. These individuals are some of the most distinguished community leaders in the Pacific Northwest, representing a diverse spectrum of Indigenous cultures, languages, communities, and professions. They are negotiators, culture bearers, environmentalists, educators, advocates, scientists, knowledge holders, linguists, artists, resistors, and catalysts for change. All are united in their drive to protect and uplift tribal communities. For more information, visit the Indigenous Leadership Awards webpage.