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Navajo Agriculture Institute

Navajo Green Team believes it necessary to grow our farmers first by supporting them so that they will be empowered to produce more food.

Photo of Cherilyn Yazzie
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Navajo Green Team, LLC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Coffee Pot Farms, LLC Red Earth Gardens Bee Nahoogleehii Permaculture Pinnacle Prevention Ajo CSA Community Outreach Patient Empowerment

Website of Legally Registered Entity

Not applicable

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Dilkon, Arizona on the Navajo Nation.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Northern Arizona on the Navajo Nation

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

My maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather are my connection to this place I call home. When I was younger my grandma would take me out on the trails and buttes to herd sheep with her.  She is in her nineties and stopped herding her sheep four years ago. I can only imagine that she knows the Navajo names of all the plants, trees and insects. My grandfather passed away seven years ago and he worked into his mid-seventies. He set up a solar water pump by digging two-mile water pipeline; from a natural spring to a seven thousand gallons water tank. With that water he hauled water for his neighbors, sheep, goats, horses, cows and the corn field. These two people are my inspiration in applying to this food system vision. My grandparents never asked for permission to do something. I understand you do something for yourself or your family because it needs to get done. We need to feed our families, the animals and the soil. That Navajo discipline is in our creation stories, prayers and our ceremonies. As Navajo people we are fortunate to still practice these ways and it’s important that we continue the Navajo discipline so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will remember they come from a line of courageous, strong, healthy and beautiful people. Coffee Pot Farms and the creation of the Navajo Green Team was started to address our concerns as Navajo farmers; in that we receive limited services for infrastructure and education to become market food producers, business owners, agricultural educators and problem solvers. Our vision is to sustain the economic viability of farm operations and enhance the quality of life for farmers and families. It’s important to me that I don’t get tired or frustrated with the current state of our Navajo food systems. I think about my grandparents and I know they would not give up so, I must get up and do what needs to be done for our homelands and the future generations to come. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Navajo Nation (Dine Beke’yah) is home to over 250,000 individuals and extends across the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The Navajo Nation is the largest tribal community in the United States with over 100 different chapters covering the 27,000 square miles of land. The land is high desert and dry climate.  Connection to land and agriculture is a foundation of the Dine people. Navajo people still practice ceremonies for our cornfields, animals, families, and for healing. We use specific plants in our healing ceremonies. Our gatherings are connected to traditional foods and plants such as: sheep, corn, squash, watermelons, beans, corn pollen, wild spinach, onions, carrots, sumac berries, juniper, and other wild game. Despite this foundation, what was once a community deeply connected to healthy cultural food practices, has now been displaced by a proliferation of unhealthy convenience foods in a community that has now been designated as a low income and low-supermarket-access census tract by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Moreover, the socioeconomic conditions on the Navajo Nation are highlighted by limited employment opportunities. The current unemployment rate is 48.5 percent. The average household income is $8,240, well below the federal poverty guidelines. These factors indicate a need for implementation of agricultural and healthy food initiatives to revitalize the rural Navajo Nation economy and health of the Dine people. Over 30% of the Navajo Nation population includes children under 18 years of age and approximately 60% of those households with children under 18 are participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many Dine families travel 20 miles or more to access the closest full-service grocery store. This limited grocery store access and isolation is further exacerbated by high rates of chronic disease that disproportionately impact the Dine people. Despite the farming and agricultural roots of the community, the local food environment is extremely limited in access to fresh, healthy, and affordable foods. The Green Team alliance of farmers that is developing a regional food system that is focused on food security and increasing access to traditional foods. We believe that food is the first medicine as it comes from mother earth and that food security is the future and critical first step to creating healthy communities and healthy families. Arizona and the Navajo Nation has the highest percentages of female principal farm operators. Navajo women are a core force that is working the land while also serving in the primary role as food and purchasing decision-makers for their families.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

250000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In 2020, Navajo farmers still lack access to land, water, and qualified labor to become adequate producers of healthy, nutrient dense foods. Every local meeting we’ve attended, every agricultural report since 2012 that we’ve read raised Navajo farmers concerns and provided solutions on what need to be accomplished. The first two challenges are the land and water policies that stem from fractured land base of the General Allotment Act of 1887 also called the Dawes Act. This act has tied up our food system in all areas of culture, diet, economics, environment, policy, and technology. In our culture we still use native plants in our ceremonies for healing and for our health. Due to the uncertainty of grazing permits and the high population of herd animals our medicine people are noticing less taa’ dii diin (corn pollen), corn meal, sage and various herbs for cleansing ceremonies. Corn fields have gone dormant due to land erosion and the inability to continue flood irrigation methods or dry land farming practices and we are planting less traditional crops: corn, beans, squash, melons, wild onions, carrots, spinach, purslane, apricot and peach trees. The economics to produce more food is more expensive and more challenging with limited infrastructure. An example is that our water supply facilities are more than 50 years old and have not kept pace with population growth and the need for increased irrigation for food production. This was why my paternal grandfather dug his own waterline to get water for his animals and cornfields. Navajo water haulers pay $13,034 per acre/foot which is 10-20 times more than Phoenix and Tucson residents. According to Arizona Agriculture Census Data, there are over 12,000 Native American farmers and ranchers. Census Agriculture 2017, states that Arizona State profiles shows that 9,501 American Indian farms made $2,499 income. How do Navajo food producers sustain themselves into 2050? We conducted interviews with food stamp recipients, moms, farmers, food administrators, food vendors and 69% said that they education around food.  They wanted to learn about nutrition, cooking classes, how to manage their diabetes with gardening, farming, and how to tap into resources to grow their food production without waiting for years and years. The greatest resources available to the Navajo people are land and labor. The Green Team believes that these factors indicate a need for implementation of agricultural and healthy food initiatives to revitalize the rural Navajo economy and health of the Dine people. As native people we have lots of mistrust of government systems from the times of land removal, animal reduction campaigns, broken treaties, and continues today as this mistrust extends to our tribal systems. Farmers want support to decode these land and water laws so we can improve agricultural production. There are many farm tools and education out in the world today. We want to shift our practice to include these new technologies to help us better manage what we have to work with. Our focus is to sustain the economic viability of farm operations and enhance the quality of life for farmers.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The Navajo Green Team aims to develop a network of agricultural specialists that will work across the Navajo Nation to support, to create opportunities, advocate, promote agricultural sciences and establish an indigenous food, seed, tool, knowledge exchange program. We intend to provide the labor, hands on technical assistance, and be a place for traditional knowledge of land conservation and food production. Farmers have first-hand knowledge of what they need, can run their farms, and should be in roles where they are making important decisions for the food systems. We can’t have food without food producers. By 2050, that the Navajo Green Team will establish the Navajo Agriculture Institute. These farms will be placed-based, ag hub for food production and education for all generation of farmers. These farms will have an equipment share program, a place for training, and it will have a cold storage facility. The Navajo Agriculture Institute will have access to an attorney so farmers can have help completing land and water forms and also field questions from about their concerns about land, water or labor. There will be a business coach to help with business agriculture management. The Navajo Ag Institute will be run by the Navajo Green Team who can provide topics on: market gardening, marketing, business agriculture, soil biology, agroecology, traditional planting and teachings, learning about native plants, how to obtain water, water storage technologies, renewable energy, understanding the USDA Farm Bill, best practices of conservation, watershed management, GAP/GHP, food safety, land stewardship, erosion control, conservation planning, harvesting, food demonstrations, basic gardening. Our first goal as the Navajo Ag Institute will be to work on our land, water and business permits. Next it will take one year to upgrade and build out the infrastructure for each farm site. Then we begin producing food for our customers and community. We will include a mobile market and a “Taste of Home” food box for our customers. Lastly, we will begin to recruit and educate new growers to become food producers. These new growers will also serve as our highly qualified labor to help the older farmers grow more food. Each Green Team site will serve as a food hub that demonstrates traditional and non-traditional farming techniques along with proper post-harvesting practices. Additionally, these food hubs will have shared farm equipment programs: water truck, BCS with implements, tractor, seeders, shared green house space, shared post-harvesting areas. These sites will also be set up for renewal energy for solar, wind, electricity for heating, cooling, venting of green houses, operations of post-harvest areas, water pumps, and electricity to the farms. The Navajo Green Team believes it is necessary to grow farmers first and provide support so that they will be empowered to produce more food.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The Navajo Green Team can imagine all our corn fields growing food or medicines again. All farmers have access to water to help them produce as much food as needed that is served in local restaurant or road side stands, in the salad bars of all the school cafeterias across the Navajo Nation, our farmers are selling our produce in the local grocery stores and that each community has a farmer to connect to. Imagine that our local Indian Health Services has contracted with our farmers to help set up home gardens and Taste of Home food box to help the patients with their chronic disease.  Each year we host planting and harvest festivals in our community so that we are learning our corn songs and prayers and that we are giving offerings to the earth again in appreciation for the rains and the nutritious foods. We are focusing our efforts on our farmers so that we are more knowledgeable of our land, water and labor policies and that with this information we are empowered to make strategies so we can care for the land. Navajo Green Team will increase agricultural professionals in all indigenous communities everywhere on this land. We will also increase our knowledge and skills on how to become agricultural food producers to grow for our markets. We will increase the numbers of agricultural entrepreneurs that can bring economic security to Navajo communities. Our high-level vision is the implementation of the Agricultural Institute on the Navajo Reservation and eventually into tribal nations across Arizona, in urban settings of Phoenix and Albuquerque and rest of the United States. We will seek to advocate for tribal and federal funding to help in the expansion of the Agriculture Institute. We will recruit for all generations of farmers. This model has the potential to include ranchers of sheep and cattle. We seek to promote agriculturally based entrepreneurship that will lead not only to food sovereignty but economical sovereignty.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

All Navajo prayers begin and end with “in beauty I walk, with beauty before me I walk, with beauty behind me I walk, with beauty above me I walk, with beauty around me I walk. It has become beauty again”. Our full food system vision addresses multiple elements of a healthy community – from food access, to economic opportunity, to environmental quality, to cultural cohesion, and social justice. Navajo farmers see beauty again when we see the development of Navajo Agricultural Institute to revitalize our cornfields and can produce corn pollen in abundance. The Navajo Green Team will address Navajo farmers urgent situations by actually obtaining services, empowering our farmers/food producers and bringing about more effective and efficient delivery of services while eliminating unnecessary duplication of efforts and lastly we will increase communication and knowledge of land and water polices among Navajo farmers to maintain our Ke’ (kinship) systems. One hundred percent of dormant cornfields will be growing food again and this will be accomplished by Navajo farmers receiving help to get funds for infrastructure or obtain land use permits. What the Navajo Green Team is doing radically different is taking steps on their own and strategizing ways to obtain access to land, water and qualified labor so we can produce more food while also teaching others to grow their own. With the help of an agricultural lawyer we will advocate to update water, land and grazing permit policies that directly impact farmers. We are doing what my grandparents and our ancestors have done for generations, we are finding our own way, paving a new path that doesn’t sit on a bureaucratic shelf and gets forgotten. We see that the Navajo Ag Institute has the potential for us to emancipate ourselves from the current food system we live in now, that is heavily dominated by USDA food programs and what the dominate society has been feeding us. The Navajo Ag Institute will be located on the Navajo Nation and will house several departments such as agricultural legal, educational, grant research department, water, farm technical assistance, seed bank, mobile farmers markets, business ag, permaculture trainings, market gardening training, traditional growing, ceremonial grounds for cultural teachings, commercial kitchens with cold storage area and living quarters for on-site staff. The ag institute will be able to track the number of new farm technologies used and new farm techniques learned to improve growing capacity. We intend to increase the number of female farmers obtaining land, water and business permits as most Navajo women are the food and purchasing decision-markers for their families. If a reporter came to visit the farmers’ farm plots, the reporter would be able to see that we are tapped into a well for our water, or that water is being hauled in through a community supported agriculture. Farmers find the process easier to withdraw or lease lands and are successfully growing on one acre or more. Each farmer’s operation will feature – high productivity on a small plot of land, intensive methods of production, season extension techniques using hoop houses, green houses, selling directly to public markets while their own post-harvest rooms, tools, and their sites are all using renewal energies to power the farm. We will be growing our food in biointensive ways which means planting crops more closely together to reduce weed pressure, using hand-powered tools that are efficient and ergonomic, growing in permanent beds, investing in organic matter with the idea of creating rich and living soil, maximizing our growing space by planting many succession crops as possible. The succession crops will increase farmer income 50% year over year. We intend to invest in the Green Team’s farm infrastructure totally $40,000 per farm to serve as satellite farms under the Navajo Ag Institute. These satellite farms will serve as a community extension of the Navajo Ag Institute providing a place-based learning environment for Native American farmers on the Navajo Nation. With these models we have used our traditional corn fields, traditional songs and prayers about corn, animals and mother earth to heal ourselves, our relationships with food, animals, plants and the earth. The reporter would also see that our farmers are selling fresh produce to locally owned small restaurants. We have a local farmers market store fronts and our farmers are able sell their produce to grocery stores Bashas and Lowe’s. We will be able to see an increase in the number of sales to SNAP participants at local farmer’s markets. By offering organic produce the local farmers will have decrease the amount of travel time by consumers to access nutrient dense produce by half. We are able to do this as farmers by first growing back in our corn fields that have laid dormant for over 20 years. The vision for farmers, and the food system as a whole will include: every Navajo farmer will have access to water by having a well that was drilled or that they participate in a water hauling community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Farmers would be able to track the gallons of water used for food production after the installations of the water infrastructure or in participating in the water CSA program. Each chapter house will create incentives for young people to become farmers. Navajo farmers will have learned how to grow in both traditional and non-traditional ways and can offer a variety of quality produce to sell through farmer’s markets, CSA, local restaurants, schools, senior centers, hospitals, convenience and grocery stores. Every school on the Navajo Nation has a school garden that has on staff one full time farmer that provides produce for the salad bar and also provides agriculture education. Navajo Ag Institute is growing new farmers by providing the education, business ag, provides infrastructure funds for those farmers that complete the program, all the farmers help each other during the growing season. The ag institute is run by the Navajo Green Team that includes Coffee Pot Farms, Red Earth Gardens, Red Bird Farms, and Bee Nahoogleehii Permaculture. The future looks bright if we are able to bring all Arizona tribal nations to collaborate with the Ag Institute. These agencies, non-profits, farmers include Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Whiteriver The People’s Farm, Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute, Tolani Lake Enterprises and agencies such as Indian Health Services, Bureau of Indian Education, public schools, Navajo Medicine Men Association, and local chapter houses. We’ve made connections with the Indian Health Services to have doctors write prescriptions for their patients that have chronic diseases to buy produce from their local grower and to also attend classes at the Navajo Ag Institute to help them start home gardens. The farmers will also be hired as consultants to provide the produce or help the patient start their home garden. Each year in the spring, we bring our medicine people in to have planting ceremonies and any food producer is invited so they can learn the planting, animal, mother nature prayers and songs. In the fall, we celebrate with a huge harvest festival where we the local farmers are given the opportunity to teach about their farms and their work. We will be able to show an increase in pounds of produce, traditional food and medicinal plants offered and grown. At the institute, the reporter would see in our greenhouse classroom spaces that there is are elders, young children and the adults all learning together and helping one another. Everyone is learning about nutrition and cooking new dishes together. The greenhouse classroom spaces are usually on site at a farmers site or at their corn fields. In beauty I walk with beauty before me I walk, with beauty behind me I walk, with beauty behind me I walk, with beauty above me I walk, with beauty around me I walk. It has become beauty again.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Cherilyn and Team: A friendly reminder in the final hours to update submissions (due by 2pm PST/5pm EST):

Check your vision to our checklist: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o8WGMus6-V8GywWdlNwmCpk7I1fMVzcQ/view

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