Next to ringing slot machines with names like Buffalo Gal and Spartacus Gladiator of Rome at Oklahoma’s Downstream Casino sits a small glass case displaying dry-aged beef and a vertical herb garden. It’s an ad for local food produced nearby, some a stone’s throw from the casino’s parking lot.
The Quapaw Nation, the Native American tribe that owns the casino and the adjacent hotel, has something most gaming establishments don’t: 1,000 cattle, 200 bison, six greenhouses, 100 beehives, a meat processing facility, and a coffee roasting plant. The greenhouses are pesticide-free and renowned livestock industry consultant Temple Grandin designed part of the cattle facility.
John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Nation, is the man behind the efforts. He’s a fourth-generation rancher, but wasn’t necessarily driven to create a better food system. For Berrey, it started with an economic opportunity.
“We want to tap into the farm-to-table scene,” Berrey said.
Downstream’s high-end restaurant, Red Oak Steakhouse, serves beef from the tribe’s herd; honey from the beehives goes into a beer brewed on-site; and the greenhouses produce over 200 types of herbs and flowers used in their food, their spa, and the casino’s decorations.
The goals, however, have grown from drawing customers to the casino. Since Berrey bought the first greenhouses in 2013, the tribe now uses its local food resources to serve 400-plus meals a day to tribal members and non-Native locals alike.
“Quapaws come first for sure,” Berrey said. “But not far behind is everybody else.”
In some ways, the Quapaw are merely doing what they’ve always done. “It’s in our DNA,” Berrey said. “The history of our tribe is being both hunters and farmers.” The Quapaw lived along the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, where the fertile soil let them become experts in growing large amounts of food. Once Europeans arrived in…