Hallie Casey- Travels to Western New Mexico
By Hallie Casey
It was a warm, hazy Sunday evening when Olivia Barker (Texas A&M University) and I pulled into Gallup, New Mexico. For the rest of our trip, Gallup (a town along Route 66, know for it’s high Indian American population and it’s picture-perfect Western views) served as a home base for Olivia and I as we drove across western New Mexico, visiting community and school gardens.
On many Indian reservations across the United States, food insecurity is a perpetual problem. Persecution perpetrated by the United States government has excluded tribes from use and ownership of arable land. Most reservations receive food assistance from the USDA Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, which typically consists of packaged or canned food items high in fat, salt, and sugar. These factors, along with geographic remoteness, results in a lack of fresh, healthy food options on Indian Country. In the last few decades, many First Nations-serving organizations have turned their focus towards home, school, and community gardening to address this problem.
A map of our project. The red pin indicates Gallup, NM, where we were based. On the left is the Arizona border.
With funding from the UC Davis Jastro Award, I travelled to Western New Mexico to research the ways that gardens are being implemented by First Nations-serving organizations (predominately Navajo and Zuni). The project was coordinated in cooperation with the New Mexico Tribal Extension Office and Navajo Technical University. In total, we had nine stakeholder meetings and visited seven gardens. We toured gardens, attended cultural events, and spoke to garden managers, program managers, extension agents, and educators. We asked what people were doing, for whom, and how they were working.
We garnered interesting preliminary results, but two things seemed most significant. First, the cultural heritage of agriculture and how that is reflected and practices today. Several times, interviews diverted from discussions of garden management logistics to cultural understandings of growing. Navajo* and Zuni have quite distinct traditional growing practices and this has informed how gardening and agriculture is currently practiced in those communities. We found community gardens and agricultural plots were vastly different between the two communities. Second, the institutional efforts and opportunities for collaboration and growth moving forward. There are several organizations working on community gardening in fairly close proximity to each other that have little if any collaboration. Connecting these programs could promote resource- and knowledge-sharing.
Community garden on hospital grounds, Zuni, NM.
Hallie Casey and Hilda Garcia-Kendall at the Gallup Food Pantry Hope Garden, Gallup, NM
Work still to do: I am collaborating with Steve Etter, of Navajo Technical University, to develop a curriculum for training home gardeners on basic principles of plant science, irrigation, and garden maintenance. This training will be coupled with a implementation effort by Dr. Etter and NTU, providing materials and labor to assist community members in installing raised beds.
A month after my initial trip to New Mexico, I returned to Milan Elementary to teach a lesson on water-soil dynamics. I am still in contact with faculty at Milan Elementary and there is a possibility of future collaboration.
*We worked in the Crowpoint area on Navajo. It is a large and diverse nation; my reflections are not intended to apply broadly.
Installing raised beds at the Standing Rock Elementary School, Navajo, NM