Fertile Ground

Early in the Seeds of Native Health campaign, the SMSC joined forces with Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association (AHA), to address the health crisis in Indian Country. Since then, the tribe and AHA have partnered on a series of important grant-making projects and national convenings.

Movement building

The SMSC-AHA partnership first began in 2015 with a roundtable gathering (Fertile Ground I) of 41 philanthropic funders from across the country to address the need for a national framework to solve the complex Native nutrition crisis. It was followed by a large-scale conference (Fertile Ground II) the next year, which explored specific advocacy opportunities and ways to build technical assistance, training, and other support Native organizations needed to succeed.


As a result of the Fertile Ground gatherings, the SMSC and AHA further collaborated in grant-making to tribes, Native-led organizations, and projects that improve the health and nutrition of Native communities. Through the competitive Fertile Ground Grant Program, the American Indian Cancer Foundation, SMSC, and AHA jointly awarded $175,000 in health grants to five Native American organizations. The $35,000 grants supported innovative nutrition and health-focused advocacy efforts across the country, from New Mexico to Wisconsin to Washington.

Additionally, the SMSC and AHA later created the Fertile Ground Policy Innovation Fund – the largest fund ever created for grant-making in direct support of Native nutrition and health policy work. The $1.6 million fund provided grants for projects designed to build community power and advance policy systems and change at the tribal, local, state, and national levels to benefit Native health.

Leadership development

Another area of SMSC-AHA work was leadership development. To expand the strategic and tactical knowledge of Native policy advocates, two Fertile Ground Leadership Institutes were held in 2018, in the Twin Cities and Seattle. They provided free, advanced training for 50 Native American leaders working toward health and dietary well-being in their communities. It provided tools for effective, strategic campaign planning and navigating the historic trauma which hinders efforts to fully engage Native communities. The Native Organizers Alliance and the American Indian Cancer Foundation served as lead trainers.

AHA logo square