Restoring gardening practices on the Navajo Nation

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NTU land grant workshop series seeks to restore gardening practices on the Navajo Nation

CROWNPOINT, NM – Navajo Technical University (NTU) has been offering free gardening workshops to community members in order increase the knowledge base on the Navajo Nation about healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound methods. The workshops were launched with a summer series in July and are being conducted by NTU’s land grant department.

“Our focus for the gardening workshops is to answer questions and equip our participants to grow whatever and however they want. Our aim is to meet participants where they are and support their efforts,” said Hallie Casey, horticulture specialist for NTU’s land grant program. “Often times, this means working with folks to restore their family’s land or provide healthier food options for their family. We are thrilled to be able to support individuals passionate about nourishing their land and bodies.”

The land grant program’s fall series began on Sept. 21 with a cool weather crops presentation and was followed by a demonstration on how to make a low-cost pea trellis, using PVC pipes and string. On Friday, the program wrapped up a presentation on indoor plants, and the series will continue on October 12 with hands-on plant propagation. A fall crops cooking demo will also be provided before the end of the month, as well as a workshop on tree care and maintenance.

A wide array of participants has attended the workshops, including NTU students, faculty members, and community members from throughout the Four Corners region.  NTU’s summer series on composting, seed saving, food preservation, and rainwater harvesting averaged 21 participants a session, which has allowed the fall series to be offered twice a week to accommodate participants’ schedules.

“It’s been a learning experience for me. I’m learning everything I can each day,” explained environmental science and natural resources major Leighton Garcia, who is working for the land grant department managing NTU’s garden and greenhouse. “I want to apply everything I learn back home. I want to teach people around me and say this is possible. We can do it. We can grow our own food here.”

“I remember in my youth when I was a kid planting seeds for my grandma in the cornfield,” reflected Garcia, whose clans are Kinyaa’áanii, Tábaahá, Tódich’ii’nii, and Naakai Dine’é.  “As time went on, it’s been forgotten. The corn crops are gone. The farming is gone. There’s only a few of us who still hold on to [the practice].”

“I think if we hold on to it and learn all we can, it’s possible to do more,” continued Garcia, whose family operates a farm in Many Farms, AZ where he does irrigation farming for trees and corn. “We can overcome poverty. We can overcome hunger. We can overcome diabetes.”

Bebbah Bitsui of Chinle, AZ reiterated Garcia’s sentiment about gardening having the potential to make a community-wide impact, and stated she was attending the workshop series for her job working as a health technician with Indian Health Services. Bitsui was tasked with starting a gardening project at Crownpoint’s local elementary, which will eventually be developed and spread to other regional schools.

“It gives us the chance to reconnect with our roots,” explained Bitsui, who attended each of the summer workshop series. “Our children don’t know where our products are coming from. I would encourage everyone to obtain as much knowledge as much as they can since it’s being provided. It’s great information and Hallie is very knowledgeable.”

In addition to the land grant department’s gardening workshops, Casey expects to start working with area schools on bringing agriculture discussions to the classroom. NTU’s land grant program will also be conducting its annual ram lease project on November 2, where rams will be leased to community members in attempt to improve the herd health of the region.

For more information about NTU’s gardening workshop series contact Hallie Casey at horticulture@navajotech.edu. For more information about NTU’s ram lease project contact 505-786.4150.