Feeding my neighbor: A glimpse into Native American food & farming projects in New Mexico

We reside in a state with a deep-rooted history and a diverse mix of culture. This mix has cultivated a unique food distinct to the area, which has evolved over time with the influence of Native American, Mexican, and many other cultures that have made New Mexico their home. Before the imaginary lines of state boundaries were created, food was fresh and organic, and water was abundant. Today, many Pueblos and the Navajo tribe are thriving as some of the many food providers of the State and Nation’s food basket.

The Navajo tribe has been operating the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI) for 44 years under the brand name, Navajo Pride, just south of Farmington, NM. The 100,000 acres of farmland produces native traditional foods (blue corn, white corn, sumac berries, pinto beans and traditional plants used in religious ceremonies) and non-traditional foods (potatoes, flour, alfalfa, and corn for grain and feed).

Several Pueblos in the state are known for their casinos that are strategically situated outside the Albuquerque city limits. Yet, it is less well known that the Santa Ana Pueblo of Rio Rancho is also operating the sister company Tamaya Blue, growing and producing their most prominent crop, blue corn, which is held in high reverence for many Pueblos and Native Americans of the Southwest. They also offer many food products from other Native Americans under their brand name.

Additionally, our great state is home to the first Native American Food Hub operated by the Ten Southern Pueblos Council, contracted with the Acoma Business Enterprises. At the end of growing season many farmers are faced with an overabundance of food. The food hub will provide many farmers a sustainable central location where food can be aggregated, processed and distributed.

One of the many dilemmas facing underserved communities across the nation is the access to fresh food. Jemez Pueblo acknowledged this challenge and expanded their local community garden by 60%, which is now providing locally grown produce to the schools of the community through a farm-to-school program. Access to fresh food will help promote education and healthy alternatives and ensure the community thrives as knowledge of farming is passed down to younger generations.

With the many farming projects by the Pueblos and the Navajo tribe, one may begin to ask, where does all the water come from? Eleven of the Pueblos that reside along the Rio Grande River have water rights that pre-date other existing water rights under the Senior Rights to Water to the Rio Grande. This agreement states that The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District has an obligation to first deliver water to almost 9,000 acres of tribal land that holds “prior and paramount” rights before it delivers water to other users. To the Pueblos, the Rio Grande River is the epicenter of their daily lives as it is considered sacred and plays a crucial role in their traditional beliefs. The Navajos have negotiated an agreement between the State of New Mexico and the federal government that has allowed the Navajo Agriculture Products Industry to thrive. This agreement has allowed half a million acre-feet of water to be diverted annually from the Navajo Dam, located north of Farmington, NM, to NAPI under the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project (NIIP).

Who would have guessed that an arid climate like New Mexico would be home to an abundance of thriving fresh food producers who are ensuring that their local communities and their neighbors around them have one of the basic needs of life: fresh food?

-Posted by Wilmer

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