Season’s Muse: Value-Added Farm Crafts Using Traditional New Mexican Food Staples and Wildcrafted Plants

When I was a child, my father would often pack the whole family into the truck and go for extended camping trips in Southern New Mexico, while he did field research for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish on various quail species that lived in the region.  We explored the Organ, Sacramento, Piloncillo, Gila, San Mateo and other mountain ranges as well as the grasslands and deserts below.  I would spend all day roaming the landscape, and then would build mini villages made out of whatever plant and geologic material I found.  I would build complex fairy houses for my baby sister, and we would escape the gritty world for a spell. I was constantly making extravagant wreaths out of the local flora and presenting them to my family members.  I would collect flowers of all kinds and press them in my father’s flower press for later creations at home. He would teach me a bit about the ecology of the area, and I would imagine how previous peoples who lived there would make their way in the world.  Humans, as well as plants and animals, must adapt to their surroundings if they wish to thrive, or even to survive.

Now I find myself with a family of my own in Northern New Mexico, having journeyed from my homeland in Chihuahua, to Southern New Mexico, to Big Bend country in Texas, a stint in Kansas and Austin and finally to my home in Dixon, New Mexico.  Those early botanical experiences have remained an important part of me, and I am still making fairy houses, now with my children, and wreaths, but now trying to make a sustainable living out of it.  I make a wide variety of dried floral arrangements, and source all ingredients from our farm or gather them in the wildlands surrounding Dixon, NM.

My partner Ric and I operate One Straw Farm, an organic (not certified) vegetable and flower farm. My arrangement business, Season’s Muse, is inspired by the culture, ecology and magic of the Upper Rio Grande bio-region. We work hard to ensure that everything we produce stays true to our commitment of growing crops in a way that does not harm the land, water or air. I try to tell a story in my creations about the region by coupling various farm-grown plants and flowers and wild plants together into unique arrangements.  I use many traditional New Mexico food staples in my arrangements such as corn, wheat, sorghum, chile pequin, garlic, pinon cones, gourds and amaranth. I sell my works at the Santa Fe Farmers Market and am one of the artists on the Dixon Studio Tour held every November. Each arrangement also has a bit of my own history woven into it, because everything in it consists of ingredients that I either grew, gathered or bartered.

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Each Spring, we start tens of thousands of plants in the greenhouse for transplanting when the weather is settled.   Everything we grow at the farm is raised using the same organic standards that certified organic farmers are required to use, including only using natural ingredients and not using chemical pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides.  We custom mix our potting mix, which includes our own special compost and garden soil.  The fields are kept fertile by a combination of growing cover crops and applications of compost, manure and minerals.  Weeds are controlled by implementing a system of stale-bed preparation and flame weeding, as well as copious amounts of weeding by hand.

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We irrigate from a traditional acequia and use drip irrigation for all of our crops.  Acequias are 400-year -old community institutions in New Mexico that trace their roots to Spanish, Moorish, Native American and Mexican irrigating traditions.  Every year the parciantes, meaning the users of the ditch of the acequia, participate in “La Fatiga” and “La Jara”, or the annual cleaning of the ditch, a testament to the communal aspects of acequia culture still in place today.  Jaras, or willows, are also a crucial part of many of my arrangements.  I harvest the same willows that are cut every year from the ditch banks and use them to make hundreds of wreath bases before a very busy Studio Tour season of preparation.

A few months of irrigating, weeding, thinning and trellising pass before most things are ready to harvest. When the flowers, grasses, sorghum, chiles, corn and other plants are ready to harvest, I am in the field every day harvesting, and then pressing thousands of flowers in the sand to dry, or bundling, tying and hanging to dry the other crops.

I also spend many days in the wildlands, mesas and forests collecting amazing specimens at various stages of their development created by the original muse, Mother Nature.  When I take part of a plant for my arrangements, I make it a habit to thank the plant for its bounty, and I never take it all. I always make sure not to compromise the health of the plant or the important ecosystem services they provide. Some of my favorite wild plants include Indian rice grass, snakeweed, sage, wild sunflowers, pinon cones, cattails, yarrow and dock.

I also trade our fresh vegetables for other flowers and plants that we don’t grow with other farmers at the farmers market. Santa Fe Farmers Market rules dictate that 80% of farm crafts be locally grown or wild-crafted, further adding to the sustainability of the work I do.

I strive to develop my craft into a valuable example of a sustainable art form that can spark interest and awareness about Northern New Mexican popular food staples, agricultural traditions and ecology. I hope to further the value-added aspects of Season’s Muse by inspiring a desire to preserve not only the traditions but also the natural beauty that surrounds us in the Upper Rio Grande bioregion. The diverse and unique landscape we live in is expressed in my works through the many wild plants that make Northern New Mexico such a rich and vibrant region with astonishingly beautiful landscapes. Because the plants I use in my arrangements are derived directly from these landscapes, it is their unique colors and textures that radiate from my arrangements and are therefore, a direct muse for the resulting design.

The seasons dictate how my days are organized.  The entire Spring and Summer is spent growing crops (and children), and when Fall approaches, signaling a more reflective future, I am able to start making my creations.  Plus, I have a huge new exciting assortment of material grown and collected from the year!  The changing light of Fall triggers the artistic muse within me, and I now spend hours each day making arrangements.  Each wreath is unique, yet related.  Every little zinnia that gets glued next to a chile pequin, that is next to a sorghum sprig, that is next to an elegant dried member of the Polygonaceae family collected from a highway right-of-way, that are all carefully blended into the amazing bright yellow flower ocean of thousands of Snakeweed flowers that are on a jara wreath made from willows from the local acequia, are constant reminders of what I have been creating and developing all year, and all my life.

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Watch a time-lapse video below of me making this wreath, from harvesting the jaras (willow), to making the wreath base and adding the snakeweed, and creating the look that calls out in celebration of the colors, beauty and bounty of Northern New Mexico agriculture.

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Slow Food: A global movement for change

headerMy love for good, fresh food began while I was attending high school in Estes Park, CO. Our school embedded a strong belief that in order to learn and be successful, we must nourish ourselves daily with nutrient rich, unprocessed foods. Most teenagers seem to be comfortable living off ramen and assorted snack foods, so in order to invoke a passion for exploring new foods, the staff required all students to participate in the preparation and cooking of our own food, while providing a welcoming, communal eating environment. Meal times became a central place for creative collaboration and in depth discussions. Through this experience, I developed a belief that cooking and eating should not be rushed, because when we take the time to enjoy our food and community, a real beautiful thing happens: we connect.

The modern world we live in today is chock full of messages encouraging us to join the ‘rat race’ of society. We have automatic coffee makers set to brew at 6am, schedules that keep us running from sunrise to sunset, and less & less time to actually spend with our families. I truly believe that even though the world around us is moving at an alarming rate, we as individuals do not have to. We need to slow down and not depend so heavily on the systems that seek to make life easier, if they compromise our connections to food, people and the health of the planet.

History of Slow Food:

Carlo Petrini, a culinary expert and journalist in Italy, shares a similar belief. He became known for leading a group of activists in a 1986 demonstration against the opening of a McDonald’s location near the Piazza de Spagna in Rome. Armed with bowls of penne pasta, the people chanted, “We don’t want fast food…We want slow food!” The demonstration was a counter action to the ongoing globalization of fast food and fast paced lifestyles.

In the following years, Petrini developed a non-profit organization in Italy called Slow Food, with the philosophy that food should be good, clean and fair for all. A few years later, the Slow Food international movement began in Paris with the first Slow Food Manifesto signed. It wasn’t until 2000 that the USA branch was created, and today there is a local chapter in nearly every state! Currently there are over 1,500 local chapters in over 160 countries.

One of the most impactful projects developed by the Slow Food movement is Terra Madre, an initiative to protect and support small-scale producers and food artisans from around the globe. Every two years, the food communities of Terra Madre networks meet for a festive and educational time in Turin, Italy. Regional meeting are also held in numerous countries, such as Ireland, Tanzania, Brazil, South Korea and Japan. Together, Slow Food and Terra Madre have helped to raise awareness about issues pertaining to agricultural processes, production methods, the preservation of traditional food and cultural practices, and have supported countless livelihoods in doing so. In learning more about this inspiring movement, I was curious to discover if and how New Mexico has been involved with Slow Food.

Slow Food New Mexico:

Currently, there are two active chapters within the state: one in Santa Fe and the other in Albuquerque. The Santa Fe chapter was founded in the year 2000 by American chef Deborah Madison who has been part of the food movement as a chef, writer, farmers’ market manager and cook. She has won multiple James Beard Awards for her writings, including her landmark cookbook ‘Vegetarian cooking for everyone’, and was the owner and founder of the restaurant, Casa Escalera in Santa Fe.

In an email conversation with Deborah, she stated that the first event they hosted was the most fun. At the time, Slow Food was new to many people, so the organizers asked that people bring anything that meant ‘Slow Food’ to them. Deborah said all sorts of things showed up, like a bottle of Guenon from the 1980’s, sweet potatoes cooked for days in an outdoor slow cooker, and mushrooms someone had picked and dried. Everyone spoke about why they chose their particular dish to share. Deborah is no longer part of the organizing board for the chapter.

The Santa Fe chapter is still active with numerous events promoting local food entrepreneurs. Members can discover the joys of locally made cheeses, chocolates, wines & spirits, and other foods from the region. The group also has a monthly book club with a long list of books of various topics, all having to do with food. The monthly dinner is a time when members can come together to share a homecooked dish and discuss the topics of the current book they are reading. Current chapter organizers are Ellen Lampert, Ardis Burst and Nina Rosenburg.

Slow Food ABQ:

The Albuquerque chapter has gone through changes since its founding in October of 2013, yet still seeks to provide events and opportunities for members to explore local foods and culture around the city. Currently, Grit Ramuschkat and Katja Lauterstein are organizing events for the chapter, and the most recent event was a coffee tasting at local coffee roaster, Red Rock Roasters. The event included a tour of the roasting facility, a discussion about coffee production and sources, and a wonderful and informative tasting of three different varieties.

If you’d like to get involved with either chapter and learn more about their upcoming events, email or visit their Facebook page:

Albuquerque chapter – slowfoodabq@gmail.com , Facebook page

Santa Fe chapter- slowfoodsantafe@gmail.com, Facebook page

-Posted by Amy

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Al“BREW”querque

Whether it be your coffee maker at home, a quick brew you pick up on your way to work, or a trip to a third wave coffee shop with your friends, coffee has become the go to beverage of many. Coffee shops that are focused on the small business model and support the local community have emerged all over the country. The US Congress defines “local” as “less than 400 miles from a product’s origin, or within the state in which it is produced.” Coffee beans cannot be placed under this definition unless you’re in Hawaii or certain parts of countries in Central and South America or Africa, for example.

So why do many places claim to be “local?” Local coffee shops rely on different aspects of local, such as sustainable production, distribution practices, length of supply chain and level of community outreach. Albuquerque has grown further out of the typical Starbucks coffee scene, with dozens of cafes popping up over the last few years.

Prismatic

The first third wave coffee shop in Albuquerque, NM is Prismatic, located in the Sawmill district just north of Old Town. It is owned by Loren Bunjes, and is part of a neighborhood complex with mixed businesses that explore diversity and create a wider community within a single location. Apart from their coffee, they also have stroopwafels, a European (Dutch) pastry, made in house, with the milk and butter purchased from a local dairy farm: Rasband. They sell equipment to other coffee shops around town and host events with local breweries like La Cumbre and Boxing Bear. Loren says he thinks it’s important that the owners live within a few miles from the coffee shop itself, because this creates a strong producer to consumer relationship. Loren also mentions that they would like to sell nationally – but continue roasting in Albuquerque – to uphold the concept of local coffee, but spread the word around the country.

The Brew

This coffee shop is one of few in Albuquerque to have a direct relationship with the coffee producers, because their business has grown from childhood memories to a family business. I talked to barista Alexis, who explained to me the story behind their local coffee shop: Two brothers from Cali, Colombia had to flee because of the escalating guerilla warfare and moved to the United States. They had grown up on their family coffee farm and decided to bring their roots to the US by being involved with the coffee industry. They named their coffee after their aunt, Villa Myriam, and grew it into an actual location, The Brew. Their business is focused on the value of family and friends and culture.

A customer had overheard our conversation and approached us to give recognition to The Brew, where they know his name and his usual order. He thinks this adds to the factor of local as a very personal and traditional manner based on cultural practices. Alexis mentioned that the story behind the coffee appeals to customers and employees by “making me feel like I am home,” and that “everyone is family.” And their employees are being “[taught] a recipe” instead of just working a machine. Apart from their close community outreach, their coffee is distributed to other local business like Rebel Donuts, Los Poblanos, Range Café, and Standard Diner, which grows a partnership of business, and cuts down on travel miles. Their social media appeal has something that others don’t because they use #farmtocup to inform people of their unique connection to their farm and business.

Zendo

Zendo opened in 2013 by New Mexico native, Pilar Westell, and is dedicated to creating a welcoming and open space for the community. They have a large focus on promoting local artists by hosting art shows the first Friday of each month. Zendo works with other community businesses by providing baked goods and food from Burque Bakehouse, Planty Sweet, and many more. Pilar expressed her thoughts on being a local coffee shop by saying, “one of the things I love the most about Zendo is that we live here, we are part of this community and everybody that comes in here gets welcomed into this community.” Having a local business can be difficult but is still a “humbling experience.”

Local coffee shops have grown immensely and “today the grass-roots coffee movement continues to row with the increase of small independently-owned cafes boasting sustainable, locally roasted, fair trade beans.” Albuquerque has shown this through more than a dozen local coffee shops spread out throughout the city. Each has a different story and unique value that characterize them as local.

-Posted by Sam

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Transplanting Roots

Zoey Fink is a Burquena who graduated from UNM in 2016. You may know her from the Stone Age Climbing Gym, the hip downtown coffee shop Zendo or the friendly face behind the information booth at the Downtown Growers’ Market. In November Zoey made the move from organizing farms to running one. She is now the Program Manager of the Tres Hermanas Farm affiliated with the refugee resettlement program, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain Refugee and Asylee.

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The Tres Hermanas Farm plot, located at the Rio Grande Community Farm. Three Congolese women are working in the field on the far left, and Zoey is walking toward them. Photo Credit: Author

Zoey is working on four different ways for refugee families to get involved with farming and gardening. One way is to work at the SWOP Garden in the International District, and another is to work on a couple garden beds provided by a local church. The resettlement agency also has a small piece of land on 8th St near Mountain Rd. It is part of Red Wagon Urban Farm & Community Garden, which is partially owned by the Harwood Art Center and Red Tractor Farm. And then there is the larger Tres Hermanas farm, which is community garden style and divided up into rows. The farm is located on the Rio Grande Community Farm and is about half an acre. Zoey says, “the goal of the program is to empower the Albuquerque refugee population by providing them with space to grow for themselves, and for their families and then to help them access market places that they wouldn’t know otherwise how to access.”

The Lutheran Family resettlement agency has offices in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Morgan, Greely, and Albuquerque. The program does everything from getting refugees into the country, picking them up from the airport, finding them a place to live, a job, schools for the children (and the parents), and in the case of the Albuquerque branch, an opportunity to work on a farm.

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Lutheran Family resettlement agency classroom. Photo Credit: LFS Refugee – Albuquerque

The number of refugees coming into New Mexico every year determines the agency’s budget. Refugees are coming from many countries, including Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the new Administration’s policies have drastically reduced that number, it is possible that the resettlement agency will start seeing budget cuts.

For the time being, Zoey is working hard to get infrastructure in place at the farm in case the budget cuts do occur. She visits the agency’s English classes to recruit more families to come out to the farm. She says, “It’s really important because I am establishing myself in the community. I don’t know these people and they’re not going to come to the farm if they don’t know who I am or what I’m talking about. Once people start to come then they start to talk about it and when I present about [the farm] they explain to the others what I’m talking about.”

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Three members of Tres Hermanas Farm are working on preparing the soil for planting. Photo credit: LFS Refugee – Albuquerque

Right now there are about 20 families signed up and Zoey is looking to get about another 10 for this year. Many of the families come from agricultural backgrounds and have brought with them some of their traditional farming techniques. If the family doesn’t have a farming background Zoey and the Lutheran Family resettlement agency are ready and willing to help them through it.

In the future Zoey hopes to support the farmers through training programs such as the Las Huertas Farmer Training Program and to eventually set them up with a booth at the Downtown Growers’ Market. She also hopes to have farmers take more leadership over the farm. In the event that the resettlement agency funding does fall through, the Rio Grande Community Farm will most likely allow the Tres Hermanas Farm to stay put. With a little leadership, the farm could be entirely independent. In the meantime they are hard at work and you can look forward to seeing their booth at a future growers’ market!

-Posted by Juliet

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The Up and Coming Culture of Propaganda Gardening

When someone mentions to you “local growing,” what do you envision? Local growing is a flexible term that can range from national production, to growing in your own backyard. While many of us may imagine farming as a way of life in the countryside, today we are finding that more people are leaving rural areas for urban ones, hoping to find a better life. According to the World Health Organization, “the urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and continues to grow.” In addition, by the year 2050 we are expected to exceed 9 billion people for the world population. One of the questions being asked as time goes on is how we will make enough food to feed everyone on the planet?

According to the 2015 Hunger Report, by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 11 million people in developed countries suffer from chronic undernourishment. As it turns out, we produce enough food around the world to feed over 10 billion people, but it’s not the lack of food that’s a problem. In 2014, the US alone wasted over 38 million tons of consumer available food. That’s roughly 20% of the waste brought into landfills every year. The principal problem is that many people in the world still cannot afford or access sufficient nutritious food. With many inner cities struggling with food access, it can be frustrating seeing these statistics. How effectively is the current food system in place serving its consumers?

In an attempt to combat the disconnect between the amount of food produced, and the food that reaches people’s plates, local farming movements have begun developing all around the world. One of the most creative movements today is turning unused land into land that produces food.

Ron Finley, from South Central Los Angeles, started a movement when he decided to plant a garden on the curb in front of his house. He was initially moved to grow food because he could see how the people in his neighborhood desperately needed a change. With minimal access to fresh foods in the area, Ron believed his garden would bring healthy opportunities to the people around him.

Pam Warhurst from Todmorden, England, asked, “How we can eat our landscapes?” and then co-founded the Incredible Edible, a movement to turn as much unused land around her town into edible gardens. What started out as an experiment among a handful of volunteers has now spread across 30 towns in England, and other parts of the world.

Food Not Lawns is an organization founded in 1999 by a group of activists who had volunteered for the Foods Not Bombs organization. The Food Not Lawns movement started out in Eugene, Oregon but has now spread to over 50 chapters worldwide, including one in Taos, New Mexico. Their efforts focus on educating people of the potential of the land they already own in front of their homes, and transforming it into usable and profitable garden beds.

These three groups, along with the rest of the local growing movement have three common values that drive their efforts to make a change. One of these values is spending power. Ron Finley says “growing your own food is like printing your own money.” If you can learn these skills and put them to use, you are in control of where you spend (or make) some of your money. The second is independence from the present food system. You are no longer limited by the options with which you are presented in your current situation, whether that means you can’t access a grocery store or afford the healthier options, or there simply aren’t enough adequate options to begin with. The third is being in control of what you put in your body. Every day, Americans consume astonishing amounts of sugar, up to 76 grams a day. We put harmful chemicals in our bodies through the pesticide residues and processed foods we consume. It can also be difficult to trust a product labeled “Natural,” “no artificial flavors,” or “Low fat,” because they can be misleading and uninformative. When we grow our own food, we know exactly where it comes from and we don’t have to worry about any misleading labels.

In addition to these three indispensable values, the examples of Ron Finley, Pam Warhurst, and Food Not Lawns go beyond community gardens and similar urban farming in one simple way: they function most importantly as “propaganda gardening.” Growing food where the public can experience and interact with the garden every time they walk by creates the type of conversation that can start a revolution.

-Posted by Karina

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How to Be a Future Farmer

Aquaponics is an up-and-coming method of growing that is great for our New Mexico desert climate, considering its efficient use of water. I have been growing using this technique over the past half year and would like to introduce you to the processes and practices of aquaponics.

Aquaponics originated as a spin-off from the hydroponic growing technique. Hydroponics uses grow beds in which the plant roots are fully submerged in water for periods of time and have complete access to oxygen the remainder of the time. The water is supplied with nutrients and is pumped into the grow beds; when the water hits a certain level it begins to drain, allowing the plant roots to access all of the oxygen they need. Aquaponics differs from hydroponics in the way the plants get their nutrients. A hydroponic system requires nutrients and fertilizers to be purchased and added manually into the water, whereas an aquaponics system generates all of the plants’ nutritional needs with a closed loop system. Believe it or not, the plants in an aquaponics system get all of their nutrients from fish waste, and the system produces plants and sustains the fish simultaneously.  Aquaponics is an ancient idea but its modernization is happening slowly and only recently are gardeners recognizing this method as a more efficient way of gardening.

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The aquaponics system. Photo credit: Chad Otoski

To become an aquaponics grower, you must first have a functioning system with a grow bed and a fish tank. Aquaponics doesn’t use soil, and the grow bed that you choose can be filled with a variety of media. I luckily was able to obtain my set-up from an old co-worker. He had built a small aquaponics system and sold it to me for $100. (You can find a system to purchase or easily build your own.) My system uses a media of tiny clay pebbles that you can buy in any gardening store. The media provides a base for the plants’ roots in the grow bed and allows it to be filled and drained of nutrient-rich water.

Your fish tank and grow bed must be nearby and to make for an easily draining system I recommend having the tank directly below the bed. Your system will also need a pump so the water can enter the grow bed and submerge the roots completely. Be sure that your pump will not overfill the grow bed with water. If the water rises too high it will leave the base of your plants prone to mold, which is not healthy for the ecosystem in the grow bed. I use a bell siphon that automatically drains water in the grow bed back into the fish tank once the water hits a certain level. The bell siphon uses only the power of gravity, which makes it a valuable yet simple part of your system. Once you have your system organized you should test it out to make sure everything runs smoothly. Once it does, you can buy some fish!!

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The grow bed filled with media. Photo credit: Chad Otoski

In an aquaponics system the plants and the fish have a mutual relationship: the fish, through their natural functions provide the nutrients the plants need, and they keep the water circulating and clean. Just like growing in soil, you want a variety of nutrients feeding your plants. Fish waste is a perfect fertilizer. Since starting my aquaponics system, I have grown basic herbs. It is important to remember that it takes time for the nutrients in your grow tank to develop. It is good to start off growing plants such as salad greens and herbs that require low levels of nutrients. Eventually the buildup of nutrients in your grow bed will provide for nutrient-rich foods like tomatoes and peppers.

Fish are the most important component of aquaponics and making sure they are healthy ensures that your plants are healthy. You can choose from many different kinds of fish to fill your tank.  Depending on the size of your fish, you should have one fish to every 5-10 gallons of water. Remember, your fish will grow. My tank holds almost 20 gallons of water and has three medium-sized goldfish. You want to make sure to feed your fish the best food possible. It is important not to overfeed them; in the end it will harm both your plants and fish.

The final stage of becoming an aquaponics gardener is to choose your plants! Even if you just put some seeds on top of the grow bed there is a high likelihood that they will sprout in a couple days. Have fun!

-Posted by Emily

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Back to the Land’s Roots

Today there are over 500 different Native American tribes. One thing they all have in common is sharing a deep reverence for the wellbeing of the environment and humanity. I learned more about indigenous people’s culture through independent research and a phone interview with an expert, Ryan Dennison. Ryan is from the Navajo Diné tribe, which he describes as having traditions deeply intertwined with nature. Ryan is an activist for environmental justice and indigenous rights, and has an extensive background working with FoodCorps and AmeriCorps. His main focus is helping to feed students of all ages living in poverty stricken communities.

The first thing Ryan talked about was traditional and ancestral foods. Ancestral foods are the original crops grown by indigenous people, such as varieties of corn, beans, and squash. Many indigenous tribes refer to these crops as “The Three Sisters”.  Ryan believes the decline of ancestral crops is due to western interventions and pollution. Luckily, he believes these crops will make a resurgence as people start living more harmoniously with nature. One sign of progress is the growing practice of foraging, which Ryan sees as being symbolic of the return of ancestral lifeways. Foraging involves collecting natural resources to use as food, medicine, and crafting materials. Indigenous people foraged for many different plants, but one of the most important to the Navajo is the yucca. Yucca root can be used to make soaps and shampoos,  and its fibers can be used to craft many useful items such as rope and shoes. Some varieties also produce edible fruits and flowers during spring and summer.

Another topic Ryan and I discussed is the diet and food traditions of indigenous people. The diet of most tribes was once plant-based and seasonal. Meat was consumed, but in moderation and mostly during the winter when plant foods were scarce. The Diné and other tribes sing prayers during all food-related endeavors, and pray when planting and harvesting crops, when foraging, and when processing wild game. Indigenous people also believe moderation of how much food one consumes for a meal is important. A portion of food is measured by the handful, and on a regular basis, one must eat 1-2 portions of food for each of the three daily meals.

Lastly Ryan told me how Western influence has impacted the health and food traditions of indigenous people. Ever since European settlers arrived in the Americas they have forced indigenous people to leave their homelands, which ultimately destroyed their villages along with the ancestral crops. Settlers also over-hunted wild game that indigenous people once depended on, and introduced Western food practices such as raising livestock. The results have lead to a situation where many indigenous communities now live in poverty, have declining health outcomes, increased dependency on western policy, and – worst of all – a weakened connection to nature. Now it’s more affordable to eat processed foods rather than fresh produce.

Another way in which Western influence has affected indigenous ways of life is through the establishment of wildlife refuges. Wildlife refuges are good for protecting local wildlife and plants, however they have stripped away indigenous people’s rights to live off the land for the sake of their livelihood and cultural values.

If human civilization is to become more sustainable, it is crucial for us to reconnect with the natural world. I believe people could learn how to do this from the practices and traditions of Native American tribes. Imagine what we could accomplish by revisiting ancient wisdom with modern technology. Maybe we could incorporate indigenous planting practices, such as multi-cropping, into organic farming. Or we can make stronger medicines by safely enhancing the potency of medicinal plants used for many generations. I believe it is time for humanity to go back to its roots in order to move further into the future.

-Posted by Jonathan P.

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