HUGO, Minn. -- Dream of Wild Health is dreaming bigger this year — tripling the size of its American Indian-run farm in Hugo.

The coronavirus has devastated the population served by the nonprofit, executive director Neely Snyder said. By radically boosting the amount of vegetables it sells and donates, she said, it can help vulnerable people in the metro area.

“Now there is more of an urgent need,” Snyder said.

On March 31, the nonprofit bought 20 acres for $240,000, near its original 10-acre farm. Dream of Wild Health distributed 7.5 tons of vegetables last year, and Snyder expects to do much more this year.

“We are trying to reclaim food sovereignty in our community,” said Snyder.

The farm produces common vegetables including tomatoes, onions and cucumbers. It also grows plants originally cultivated by Native Americans, such as corn, beans and squash.

Neely supplies food to Native restaurants, including Gatherings Cafe in the Minneapolis American Indian Center, and it donates to food shelves and sells at farmers’ markets.

Rows of Blue Hubbard squash poke up through the soil at the farm, which distributed 7.5 tons of vegetables last year. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press
Rows of Blue Hubbard squash poke up through the soil at the farm, which distributed 7.5 tons of vegetables last year. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press

It also sells food though its community supported agriculture (CSA) program, the Indigenous Food Share, which provides customers with weekly or biweekly boxes of produce during the growing season.

The group has had to adapt in the midst of the pandemic.

It has scrapped all face-to-face teaching sessions in favor of online meetings. One such event — the Sacred Medicines and Garden Beginnings Workshop — recently attracted 220 participants, Snyder said.

The farm officials feel pressure to produce more food.

Farm manager Jessika Greendeer spends about half her time doing field work, getting dirty and using implements with the rest of the crew.

“I can’t ask them to do any work I wouldn’t do,” said Greendeer. “I don’t mind it. It keeps me young.”

It allows her to watch her employees and make sure they follow Native American farming techniques.

“We are very mindful of how we farm,” said Greendeer.

“For us, it is not about fertilizing plants. It’s about taking care of the soil.”